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Eyeing Moon, NASA hosts first public astronaut graduation ceremony – Space Daily



NASA on Friday celebrated its latest class of graduating astronauts at a public ceremony in Houston, honoring a diverse and gender-balanced group now qualified for spaceflight missions including America’s return to the Moon and eventual journey to Mars.

After completing more than two years of basic training, the six women and seven men were chosen from a record-breaking 18,000 applicants and represent a wide variety of backgrounds and specialties, from pilots to scientists, engineers and doctors.

The group included two candidates from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), which has participated in a joint training program with the United States since 1983.


“They are the best of the best: They are highly qualified and very diverse, and they represent all of America,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

The class included five people of color, including the first Iranian-American astronaut, Jasmin Moghbeli, who flew helicopter combat missions in Afghanistan and holds an engineering degree from MIT, and geologist Jessica Watkins, who joins only a handful of black women to complete the program.

The group, known as the “Turtles,” wore blue flight jumpsuits and took turns approaching the podium to receive their silver astronaut pins, as their fellow classmates paid tribute to their character in the first-ever public graduation ceremony.

The tradition of handing out pins dates back to the Mercury 7 astronauts who were selected in 1959, with participants receiving their gold pins once they complete their first spaceflights.

After being selected in 2017, the class completed training in spacewalking at NASA’s underwater Neutral Buoyancy Lab, robotics, the systems of the International Space Station and piloting the T-38 training jet, plus Russian language lessons.

They are the first to graduate since NASA announced the Artemis program to return to the Moon by 2024, this time on its south pole, as the United States plans to place the next man and first woman on lunar soil and set up an orbital space station.

Part of the group’s training therefore included studying the building blocks of that program, which are still being developed: the Space Launch System rocket, the Orion crew capsule and the gateway space station.

But NASA has already said that the crew of the first return Moon mission, Artemis 3, will be selected from previous graduates.

– Elite group –

Astronauts play an active role in the development of spacecraft, and the current group will eventually join the ranks of the approximately 500 people in history who have ventured into space.

The 11 US astronauts bring the total number of NASA’s corps up to 48.

Their diversity stands in contrast to the early years of space exploration, long dominated by white men (including all 12 people who have walked on the Moon), until Sally Ride became the first American woman in space in 1983 and Guion Bluford the first black astronaut the same year.

It also includes Indian-American Raja Chari, an Air Force colonel and aeronautical engineer; Frank Rubio, a medical doctor and Blackhawk pilot; and Jonny Kim, a decorated Navy SEAL and emergency physician, who holds both a doctorate in medicine from Harvard and a mathematics degree.

“When I heard about possibly being a NASA astronaut I thought that was a platform like no other where I could leave a huge impact on the next generation and also contribute to our nation’s space exploration,” Kim told AFP.

Watkins praised what she called NASA’s emphasis on diversity.

“I think cultural and social change can be slow, even when it’s trending in the right direction,” she said.

The CSA’s newest astronauts are Joshua Kutryk, a Royal Canadian Air Force lieutenant colonel, and Jennifer Sidey-Gibbons who holds a doctorate in engineering from the University of Cambridge where she was working as an assistant professor in combustion in the Department of Engineering.

Asked about the difficulties she faced in her career, Moghbeli said some had questioned her choices when she decided to join the military after graduating from MIT.

“In a post-September 11 world, did my parents think I was crazy? Yes, I’m pretty sure they did,” she said, but added that her family then gave her their full support.

“It’s because of that that I’m here today, and I think everyone feels similarly, but — that being said — there will always be people out there that doubt.

“When I was a sixth grader and said I was going to become an astronaut, do you think everyone was like, ‘Yep, she’s going to become an astronaut’? Probably not.”

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NASA needs new way to handle accident investigations, report says

Washington (UPI) Jan 8, 2020

NASA needs new ways to investigate accidents that occur during human spaceflight when private companies like SpaceX and Boeing are launching astronauts, an agency watchdog said.
That recommendation was among those put forth in the federal Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel’s annual report for 2019, released Tuesday.
“As NASA approaches the resumption of launching humans on U.S. spacecraft, it is very important that the language in the NASA Authorization Act of 2005 requiring a Presidential … read more

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ESA – Cheops explores mysterious warm mini-Neptunes – European Space Agency



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Brightest gamma-ray burst ever seen, the largest known explosion since Big Bang, has a unique jet structure unlike any other



Scientists may finally know what made the largest explosion in the universe ever seen by humankind so powerful.

Astronomers have discovered that the brightest gamma-ray burst (GRB) ever seen had a unique jet structure and was dragging an unusually large amount of stellar material along with it.

This might explain the extreme properties of the burst, believed to have been launched when a massive star located around 2.4 billion light-years from Earth in the direction of the constellation Sagitta underwent total gravitational collapse to birth a black hole, as well as why its afterglow persisted for so long.

The GRB officially designated GRB 221009A but nicknamed the BOAT, or the brightest of all time, was spotted on October 9, 2022, and stood out from other GRBs due to its extreme nature. It was seen as an immensely bright flash of high-energy gamma-rays, followed by a low-fading afterglow across many wavelengths of light.


Related: A tiny Eastern European cubesat measured a monster gamma-ray burst better than NASA. Here’s how

“GRB 221009A represents a massive step forward in our understanding of gamma-ray bursts and demonstrates that the most extreme explosions do not obey the standard physics assumed for garden variety gamma-ray bursts,” George Washington University researcher and study lead author Brendan O’Connor said in a statement. O’Connor led a team that continued to monitor the BOAT GRB with the Gemini South Telescope in Chile following its initial discovery in Oct 2023.

Northwestern University doctoral candidate Jillian Rastinejad, who was also part of a team that observed the BOAT on Oct. 14 after its initial discovery,told Live Science that GRB 221009A is thought to be brighter than other highly energetic GRBs by a factor of at least 10.

“Photons have been detected from this GRB that has more energy than theLarge Hadron Collider (LHC) produces,” she said.

Even before the BOAT was spotted, GRBs were already considered the most powerful, violent, and energetic explosions in the universe, capable of blasting out as much energy in a matter of seconds as the sun will produce over its entire around ten billion-year lifetime. There are two types of these blasts, long-duration, and short-duration, which might have different launch mechanisms, both resulting in the creation of a black hole.

Further examination of the powerful GRB has revealed that it is unique for its structure as well as its brightness. The GRB was surprisingly wide. So wide, in fact, that astronomers were initially unable to see its edges.

“Our work clearly shows that the GRB had a unique structure, with observations gradually revealing a narrow jet embedded within a wider gas outflow where an isolated jet would normally be expected,”  co-author and Department of Physics at the University of Bath scientist  Hendrik Van Eerten said in a statement.

Thus, the jet of GRB 221009A appears to possess both wide and narrow “wings” that differentiate it from the jets of other GRBs. This could explain why the afterglow of the BOAT continued to be seen by astronomers in multiple wavelengths for months after its initial discovery.

Van Eerten and the team have a theory as to what gives the jet of the BOAT its unique structure.

“GRB jets need to go through the collapsing star in which they are formed,” he said. “What we think made the difference in this case was the amount of mixing that happened between the stellar material and the jet, such that shock-heated gas kept appearing in our line of sight all the way up to the point that any characteristic jet signature would have been lost in the overall emission from the afterglow.”

Van Eerten also points out the findings could help understand not just the BOAT but also other incredibly bright GRBs.

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“GRB 221009A might be the equivalent of the Rosetta stone of long GRBs, forcing us to revise our standard theories of how relativistic outflows are formed in collapsing massive stars,” O’Connor added.

The discovery will potentially lay the foundation for future research into GRBs as scientists attempt to unlock the mysteries still surrounding these powerful bursts of energy. The findings could also help physicists better model the structure of GRB jets.

“For a long time, we have thought about jets as being shaped like ice cream cones,” study co-author and George Washington University associate professor of physics Alexander van der Horst said. “However, some gamma-ray bursts in recent years, and in particular the work presented here, show that we need more complex models and detailed computer simulations of gamma-ray burst jets.”

The team’s research is detailed in a paper published in the journal Science Advances.



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Scientists discover first ‘virgin birth’ in a crocodile



Scientists have recorded the first known case of a “virgin birth” in a female crocodile who had no contact with males for around 16 years.

The reptile was able to produce a fully formed foetus that was 99.9% genetically identical to her.

The researchers said this discovery, reported in the journal Biology Letters, provides “tantalising insights”, suggesting its evolutionary ancestors such as the dinosaurs may also have been capable of self-reproduction.

Also known as facultative parthenogenesis, virgin birth has been documented in species of birds, fish lizards and snakes, but never before in crocodiles.


It is the process by which an egg develops into an embryo without fertilisation by sperm.

The American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) was taken into captivity in 2002 when she was two years old and placed in an enclosure in Costa Rica.

She remained there alone for the next 16 years.

In January 2018, zookeepers discovered a clutch of 14 eggs in the enclosure.

These eggs did not hatch but one contained a fully formed foetus.

Genetic analysis of the tissues from the foetus’s heart and from the mother’s shed skin revealed a 99.9% match – confirming that the offspring had no father.

Facultative parthenogenesis is rare but is thought to occur when a species faces challenging or unfavourable conditions, such as environmental stress or lack of mates.



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