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NASA is progressing in its plans on taking people back to the moon—including the first woman to land on the lunar surface—by 2024. The Artemis program also aims to create a sustained human presence there. It will be an invaluable testing ground for the long-term objective of putting human beings on Mars.
We’ve taken a look at the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft that will be used on Artemis missions. Since then, interesting new details have emerged around the lander and plans for a permanent base on the moon. Let us see how astronauts could get from the Orion to the lunar surface.
Three Landers in Development
NASA awarded three fixed-price contracts to private space sector companies to develop a lunar lander: Blue Origin ($579 million), SpaceX ($135 million) and Dynetics ($253 million). Each company will produce its own lander in partnership with the agency, then offer that lander to any of its customers, including NASA. This is a big departure from the way the agency used to do such things, where they would give a cost-plus contract to one supplier.
“We have three notably different architectures, from a one-stage, a two-stage and a three-stage architecture,” said Lisa Watson-Morgan, NASA’s Human Landing System program manager at the Marshall Space Flight Center. “That achieves the innovations and the dissimilar redundancy in approaches that we wanted.”
Blue Origin has teamed with Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin and Draper—together the “Blue Origin National Team”—to develop a three-stage lander. Blue Origin is working on the descent module based on its Blue Moon lunar lander and liquid fuel BE-7 engine. Lockheed’s reusable ascent module will be based on the Orion—the company is the prime contractor for that vehicle—and Northrop is adapting its Cygnus cargo craft to be used as a transfer vehicle that lowers the lander from high lunar orbit. Draper will lend its avionics and descent guidance, which have already demonstrated on past NASA missions, to the project.
SpaceX is tailoring its Starship spacecraft design for use as a crew lander—by far the biggest lander of the three. The company would remove the heat shield, steering fins and landing flaps and leave the vehicle in orbit for multiple trips to and from the moon. It would land and take off vertically, powered by Raptor engines that can generate almost 500,000 pounds of thrust.
The Starship lander would also have significant room for storage, habitat and cargo, making it particularly useful for NASA’s long-term lunar habitat plans. But the agency seems to consider this option the riskiest, acknowledging SpaceX’s history of delays and overly complex design. Being parked in orbit rather than coming back to Earth, it would be reliant on other Starships for fuel and repair supplies, increasing the design’s complexity.
“It’s obviously a very different solution set than any of the others,” Bridenstine said. “But it also could be absolutely game-changing, so we don’t want to discount it.”
Dynetics is leading a team of about 25 partners, including United Launch Alliance, Thales Alenia Space Italy, Astrobotic and Tuskegee University, to design its two-stage lander. The vehicle will be based on Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander and will be able to land two astronauts and supplies for a week on the lunar surface or transport four crew members to and from the moon.
Dynetics’ lander could be the easiest for astronauts to get in and out of. Its low-slung design puts it closest to the surface of the moon, requiring only a short trip down a stepladder.
[embedded content]Overview of the three proposed landers.
NASA will review all three projects in February 2021 and will likely pick two of the three concepts to develop a full-scale lander, but the agency hasn’t ruled out pursuing all three.
“This is the last piece that we need to get to the moon, and now we’re going to have that under development,” Bridenstine said.
Artemis Base Camp
NASA also has ambitious plans to create an Artemis base camp at the south pole for its new lander to arrive at.
The facility would initially house and sustain four astronauts for about a week. It would be expanded to eventually include its own power source, communications and research capabilities, a radio telescope, waste disposal and landing pad. The base camp would also include a moon rover for short trips and a mobile habitat capable of supporting human life for 30 to 45 days for longer missions away from base.
The landers in development will likely need to have significant cargo capability to ferry supplies to the base camp—something the Apollo landers never had to factor into their designs.
“After 20 years of continuously living in low-Earth orbit, we’re now ready for the next great challenge of space exploration—the development of a sustained presence on and around the moon,” Bridenstine said. “For years to come, Artemis will serve as our North Star as we continue to work toward even greater exploration of the moon, where we will demonstrate key elements needed for the first human mission to Mars.”
To learn more about the Artemis project, check out Breaking Down NASA’s Hardware For Returning Astronauts to the Moon.
Your guide to spotting the NEOWISE comet – The London Free Press
Discovered at the end of March, the NEOWISE comet is passing within 100 million kilometres of our planet. “That in astronomical terms is close, but in human terms very far,” said Parshati Patel, an astrophysicist with Western University’s Institute for Earth & Space Exploration.
So don’t worry — even though Patel says comets are unpredictable, this one won’t ram into the Earth, as often happens in Hollywood movies and science-fiction paperbacks.
Comets are leftover chunks from the formation of a planet, she says, composed of dust, ice and rocks. “It’s almost like a dirty snowball in many ways,” Patel said. They appear as bright spots, with a tail, in the sky.
Patel got up early this week to catch a glimpse of NEOWISE, which gets its name from the asteroid-hunting part of NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer mission, an Earth-orbiting telescope that detected the object.
“I personally went on Tuesday. It wasn’t really great. There were some clouds in the sky,” Patel said. “We couldn’t really see it with the naked eye.”
ATLANTIC SKIES: How did the moon form? – SaltWire Network
There are a number of theories as to how our moon formed, or where it may have come from.
The primary one – which is backed by most lunar scientists – is called the “giant impact hypothesis.” Its premise is that the moon formed as a result of a collision, approximately 4.5 billion years ago, between the newly-formed Earth and a Mars-sized object (given the name “Theia”), with the moon forming when some of the debris coalesced around the core of Theia.
A variation of this theory has the moon forming from a number of massive objects that struck the young planet, sending up large quantities of material that eventually formed the moon.
Another variation, put forward in 2012, theorizes that the moon formed when two massive objects, five times the size of Mars, crashed into one another, with the Earth created from the majority of the collision material and the moon from the remaining debris disk that orbited the new planet.
The second theory, referred to as the “co-formation theory”, holds that the moon formed much as (and at the same time as) the Earth. It postulates that as the dust and gas in the giant molecular cloud that would eventually form our solar system coalesced into the sun and the various planets, some of that material also formed the moon. This theory provided a plausible explanation as to why the Earth and moon are very similar in material-makeup.
The final theory, called the “capture theory”, posits that the moon is a celestial object, formed elsewhere in the solar system, that was captured by Earth’s gravity. One flaw in this theory, however, is that such objects are usually oddly-shaped (e.g., some of the moons of Saturn), not spherical like our moon. A variation of the capture theory states that Earth’s gravity, at some point billions of years ago, stole the moon from Venus (which has no moon).
This week’s sky
Mercury remains too close to the sun to be seen at present.
Jupiter (magnitude -2.7) will be at opposition (directly opposite the sun as seen from Earth) on July 14. It will also be at perigee (closest approach to Earth) and will be at its biggest and brightest for the year. Binoculars will show the four Jovian moons – Io, Callisto, Europa and Ganymede – orbiting the planet. Jupiter will become visible above the southeastern horizon shortly before 10 p.m., remaining visible in the night sky (highest in the southeast at midnight) until around 4:40 a.m., when it will be lost to the approaching dawn.
Saturn (magnitude +0.17) is visible about 10 degrees above the southeastern horizon around 10:30 p.m., reaching 23 degrees above the southern horizon around 1:50 a.m., before succumbing to the dawn twilight in the southwest shortly before 5 a.m.
Mars (magnitude -0.64) is visible about 41 degrees above the southeastern horizon shortly after midnight, before fading from view shortly after 5 a.m.
Our “morning star” Venus (magnitude -4.48) shines brilliantly above the eastern horizon around 3 a.m., reaching 20 degrees above the horizon before fading from sight as dawn breaks shortly after 5 a.m.
Try and catch a glimpse of Comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE in the constellation of Lynx in the northwest evening sky around July 15. Look to the lower right of the front feet of Ursa Major – the Great Bear, just as the sky begins to darken between 9-10 p.m. By July 23, it will be visible at the same time of night closer to the bowl of the Big Dipper asterism in Ursa Major.
Discovered in March 2020, it has now developed two tails (one gas, one dust). The comet passed perihelion on July 3 and will make its closest approach to Earth (perigee) on July 23.
Though now fading (currently estimated at magnitude +0.1), it may be visible to the naked eye under a clear, dark sky throughout the remainder of the month, with binoculars and small scopes enhancing the view; a timed photo shoot should capture the comet nicely. Google the comet online for the latest updates and finder charts.
Until next week, clear skies.
July 14 – Jupiter at opposition/perigee
Glenn K. Roberts lives in Stratford, P.E.I., and has been an avid amateur astronomer since he was a small child. He welcomes comments from readers, and anyone who would like to do so is encouraged to email him at email@example.com.
COVID affecting younger demographic – Medicine Hat News
By GILLIAN SLADE on July 8, 2020.
There is the impression that the Albertans currently being diagnosed with COVID-19 are a younger demographic.
According to the numbers released by Alberta Health on Monday, 21 per cent are between the ages of 40 and 49 years, 20 per cent are 30-to-39 years old, 15 per cent 20-to-29 years of age and 14 per cent are the 50-to-59 year demographic.
If you look at data provided by Alberta Health on 26 April, three months ago, the numbers are only slightly different. On that day 22 per cent were in the 30-to-39 year bracket, 18 per cent 40-to-49 years, 15 per cent 50-to-59 years and 14 per cent 20-to-29 years.
Since April though the testing criteria for the province has changed and this could be influencing the numbers by demographic.
“A common source of COVID-19 transmission, particularly in young people, is socializing without practising physical distancing and attending gatherings or parties with shared food and drinks,” said Tom McMillan, assistant director communications for Alberta Health.
He says there has also been an increase recently in the number of Albertans, less than 40 years of age, getting tested.
“Alberta has the broadest testing criteria in Canada, with testing available for anyone, even those without symptoms,” said McMillan.
We are also in the middle of the province’s relaunch after the lock down. McMillan says the locations of new cases has “largely shifted from continuing care environments to indoor and community settings, such as workplaces or large gatherings”.
Even though we have seen an increase in younger Albertans testing positive, everyone is at risk of catching COVID-19, said McMillan.
“It is important that we do not shame those who test positive but rather support them to isolate and work with public health to do contact tracing and follow up,” said McMillan.
According to Alberta Health’s data this week: the average age for COVID-19 cases that did not require hospitalization is 39 years. The average age for those needing hospitalization for COVID is 62, those requiring ICU is 60 years and the average age for those who died is 83 years.
It is interesting to note that only four per cent of those more than 80 years old test positive for COVID-19.
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