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Starliner Spacecraft's Landing on Sunday a Critical Moment for Boeing and NASA –



Update for Dec. 22: Boeing’s first Starliner spacecraft has successfully landed in New Mexico. For photos and videos, read our full landing story here.

Boeing’s first Starliner spacecraft will return to Earth Sunday (Dec. 22) to cap a rocky test flight that, despite some successes, left the capsule in the wrong orbit and unable to reach the International Space Station for NASA as planned. 

If all goes according to the revised plan, the uncrewed Starliner — which Boeing designed to eventually fly astronauts for NASA — will land at White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico at 7:57 a.m. EST (1257 GMT), six days earlier than its original Dec. 28 target. The spacecraft will rely on a heat shield to withstand the searing heat of reentry, three parachutes to slow its descent back to Earth and airbags to cushion its landing. And all of that gear needs to work perfectly for a safe touchdown.

“Tomorrow is a big day,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said of Starliner’s landing in a teleconference with reporters today (Dec. 21). “We have to be on our ‘A’ game.”

You can watch Boeing’s Starliner landing live on Sunday, courtesy of NASA TV, beginning at 6:45 a.m. EST (1145 GMT).

Video: How Boeing’s Starliner Spacecraft Will Land
Boeing’s 1st Starliner Flight Test in Photos

This Boeing graphic shows the stages of entry, descent and landing for the Starliner spacecraft. Boeing’s first Starliner will return to Earth Sunday, Dec. 22, to land at White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico. (Image credit: Boeing)

A critical test

“Entry, descent and landing is not for the faint of heart…”

Jim Chilton, Boeing Space & Launch Div.

A smooth, successful landing will be a redemption of sorts for Boeing’s Starliner, which was left in its unplanned orbit due to a timing error with the spacecraft’s mission clock. The glitch meant Starliner, which launched early Friday (Dec. 20), was unable to rendezvous with the space station to demonstrate its automated docking system, a vital capability for future astronaut missions. 

But just as vital is landing safely. And that’s what Boeing will attempt to show on Sunday. 

“Entry, descent and landing is not for the faint of heart, and this vehicle has not entered,” said Jim Chilton, senior vice president of Boeing’s Space and Launch Division. “We have not gone from space to the atmosphere.”

The airbags on Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner capsule will deploy once the spacecraft reaches an altitude of 3,000 feet (900 meters) during its return to Earth.  (Image credit: Boeing)

Leaving orbit

Starliner’s return to Earth will occur in stages, each of which must go right for the spacecraft to land safely. First, Starliner will have to leave its current orbit, which is about 155 miles (250 kilometers) above Earth.

To do that, Starliner’s service module will fire its thrusters in a so-called “deorbit burn” at 7:23 a.m. EST (1223 GMT) that will last 50 seconds. That should slow the spacecraft to about 25 times the speed of sound, Steve Stich, deputy manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, said in the teleconference. Mach 25 is about 19,181 mph (20,870 km/h).

After the deorbit burn, the cylindrical service module should separate from the Starliner crew capsule and perform its own maneuver to fall safely out space and into the Pacific Ocean, Stich said. 

An artist’s illustration of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner during its airbag and parachute-assisted landing. (Image credit: Boeing)

Parachute landing

The rest of the landing scenario relies on Starliner’s crew capsule, which will plunge through the atmosphere on a trajectory that flies over the Pacific Ocean and crosses Baja California and Mexico,  and then just west of El Paso, Texas, to reach a landing zone at White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico. 

When the gumdrop-shaped Starliner slams into the Earth’s atmosphere, its heat shield will heat up to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit (1,650 degrees Celsius), according to a Boeing mission description. The spacecraft will then jettison that heat shield and prepare to deploy its parachutes. 

“By the time we get to 30,000 feet [9,100 meters], we’ll deploy parachutes; the vehicle will be going less than the speed of sound, less than Mach 1,” Stich said. 

Starliner is equipped with three main parachutes to slow its descent back to Earth. During a pad abort test in November, only two of those parachutes deployed during a Starliner landing, a glitch Boeing pegged to a misaligned pin in the parachute rigging system. 

Chilton said both Boeing and NASA have checked and double-checked that the pins in the current Starliner’s parachutes were installed correctly. 

“We did have a NASA team go in and look at all the closeout photos,” Stitch added. “The parachutes on this spacecraft were rigged correctly.”

Starliner’s big test

At 3,000 feet (900 m), air bags should inflate on Starliner’s base. Those airbags are designed to cushion the impact of landing on astronauts inside the spacecraft. 

While there are no human astronauts on this Starliner, the spacecraft is carrying “Rosie the Rocketeer,” a spacesuit-clad anthropomorphic test dummy equipped with sensors to measure what astronauts will feel. 

“We’re going to be able to measure how the human would receive the Gs during entry, and also as the parachutes deploy and as we land,” Stich said. “We can measure that environment on Rosie and then extrapolate how a human would do in that environment.”

Related: Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner Space Capsule (Infographic)

After landing, teams from Boeing and NASA will arrive to recover the vehicle (and its Rosie dummy) to see how Starliner and its systems performed during the trip home. 

About the only thing Starliner will not have done during its test flight is the actual docking with the space station. Timing issue aside, the spacecraft fared well during launch and its major systems performed as expected in orbit, Chilton said. Engineers were also able to to deploy and retract Starliner’s docking system to make sure it would work during actual dockings. 

But just like launch, landing is a test that stands apart, Chilton said.  

“Not all objectives are created equal,”he added. “Make no mistake. We still have something to prove here on entry tomorrow.”

Visit Sunday, Dec. 22, for complete coverage of Starliner’s OFT landing at White Sands Space Harbor, New Mexico.

Email Tariq Malik at or follow him @tariqjmalik. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Instagram.

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Full moon may hinder most anticipated meteor shower of the year –



This weekend is the peak of Perseid’s meteor shower, one of the best-known and largest celestial events that can be seen from Earth.

Throughout the past couple of days, meteors have been visible to on-lookers and will get an even better view during the event’s peak on Friday night.

“Meteors are these tiny little pieces of space dust that crash into the earth and burn up, and when that happens we see them in the sky as a falling star or a shooting star,” says Scott Young, the Planetarium Astronomer at the Manitoba Museum. “The meteor is sort of the official name for those objects, and on any night you can probably see one or two of those if you’re lucky, but on certain nights of the year, the Earth goes through a big cloud of cosmic dust and when you get all that dust hitting the Earth all on the same night, you get lots of meteors. So we call that a meteor shower.”

Young also says that it won’t look as if thousands of stars are falling out of the sky, but rather it will be one star every minute instead of one a night.

“It always occurs every year around August 11-13, somewhere in that range because we’re going through the dust bunny left behind by a comet that crosses Earth’s orbit. Now, that doesn’t always mean that you will see all of those things hitting the Earth, and the timing might happen during the day for you. It might be cloudy, or like this year, close to the full moon. When the full moon is up, it makes it hard to see some of those fainter meteors that you would see.”

The best time to see any meteor shower is between midnight and dawn. According to Young, even with the bright light of the full moon on the same night as the peak time to see meteors, it is a strong enough shower that viewers will still be able to see shooting stars. 

“The official peak occurs after midnight, Friday night, so Saturday morning around 3:00 a.m. our time. But to be honest, it’s not a single-night event. It builds up over a previous couple of weeks and each night there’ll be more and more meteor showers until the peak and then after the peak, it fades away for a couple of weeks.”

The comet that causes the meteor shower is comet Swift–Tuttle, discovered by Lewis Swift and Horace Parnell Tuttle in 1862.

“Each meteor shower over the course of the year has its own source objects, most of them are comets and we know that when we get close to the comet’s orbit in our orbit, we’ll see this meteor shower. They’re actually named after the constellations in the sky where the meteors look like they’re coming from. When we’re looking at the sky, it seems that the meteors from the Perseid meteor shower will come from the constellation Perseus, which is rising in the northeastern part of the sky at this time of year. That doesn’t mean you have to know where Perseus is, the meteors can appear all over the sky.”

To get the best view of the meteor shower peak, Young suggests viewers go to a place where there are not a lot of lights and even “put your back towards any bright lights that are like the moon or city lights.” He also suggests putting the phone away, because the bright light will cause your eyes to need time to adjust to the dark sky and some of the dimmer shooting stars may be missed.

“This is one of those things where you have to unplug, disconnect and just lay out under the stars, relax and look up. it’s a great therapeutic way to connect with the sky.”

Normally on the peak day of the event, Young will go out with an all-sky camera and broadcast live on the Manitoba Museum’s Facebook and YouTube pages, but he says it always depends on the weather.

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Talk like you: Scientists discover why humans evolved to talk while other primates can’t – Euronews



Why did humans evolve to talk, while monkeys were left to hoot, squeak and grunt to communicate?

The question has long puzzled scientists, who blamed our closest primate cousins’ inability to reproduce human speech sounds on their vocal anatomy.

Until now, researchers could not quite underpin what happened exactly during our evolution to make us able to speak while apes and monkeys can’t, given our vocal structures look almost identical to other primates.

Now, a new study published on Thursday in the journal Science claims to have the answer – and it’s not what anyone expected.

Analysing the phonal apparatus – the larynx – of 43 species of primates, a team of researchers based mainly in Japan found that all non-human primates – from orangutans to chimpanzees – had an additional feature in their throat that humans do not have.

Ability to speak and develop languages

While both humans and non-human primates produce sounds by forcing air through their larynges, causing folds of tissue to vibrate, monkeys and apes have an additional feature, a thin flap of tissue known as vocal membranes, or vocal lips.

Compared to apes and monkeys, humans were found to lack this anatomical vocal membrane – a small muscle just above the vocal cords – as well as balloon-like laryngeal structures called air sacs which apes and monkeys use to produce the loud calls and screams we’re not quite capable of.

According to the researchers, humans have lost this extra vocal tissue over time, somehow simplifying and stabilising the sounds coming out of our throat, and allowing us, in time, to develop the ability to speak – and eventually develop very complex sophisticated languages.

Monkeys and apes, on the other hand, maintained these vocal lips which don’t really allow them to control the inflection and register of their voice and produce stable, clear vocal fold vibrations.

“Paradoxically, the increased complexity of human spoken language thus followed simplification of our laryngeal anatomy,” says the study.

Communication through sign language

It’s unclear when humans lost these extra tissues still present in apes and monkeys and became able to speak, as the soft tissues in the larynx are not preserved in fossils, and researchers could only study living species.

We know that it must have happened sometime after the Homo Sapiens lineage split from the other primates, some 6-7 million years ago.

The fact that apes and monkeys haven’t developed the ability to speak like humans doesn’t mean that they are not able to clearly communicate with each other.

Though their vocal anatomy doesn’t allow them to form vowel sounds and proper words, non-human primates have a complex communication system based primarily on body language rather than oral sounds.

But monkeys and apes have also proven to be able to communicate with humans.

In the not-often-happy history of the interaction between non-human primates and humans, researchers have been able to teach apes and monkeys to communicate with people.

Koko the gorilla, for example, became famous for being able to use over 1,000 hand signs in sign language, while the bonobo Kanzi was reportedly able to communicate using a keyboard.

But when it comes to having a chat, monkeys and humans might never be able to share one.

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When Summer 'Supermoons' Hit Your Eye: Spectacular Photos – Forbes



When the moon takes the celestial stage during the summer, the spectacle is simply amazing: Currently topping the program is the Sturgeon Supermoon, shining in all its splendor.

In July, it was the Buck Supermoon, the biggest and shiniest of the year. That one followed the Strawberry Supermoon that delighted sky watchers in June.

They have other stage names. This Sturgeon Moon, which derives its principal name from the giant sturgeon fish season in the Great Lakes, is known also as Thunder Moon, Mead Moon and Hay Moon, among others, and is the last supermoon of the year.

July’s Buck Moon, which drew that name because the antlers of male deer — bucks — are in full-growth mode at the time, is also called Salmon Moon and Berry Moon.

The Strawberry supermoon of June gets its name from fruit harvest seasons. It’s also known as Blooming Moon, Honey Moon and the Mead Moon.

The full moon names collected by the iconic Old Farmer’s Almanac come mainly from Native American tribes, Colonial American, and European sources.

“A full moon doubles as a supermoon when it’s near perigee, or the point in the moon’s orbit that is closest to Earth,” the Almanac explains, making it larger and brighter.

August’s Sturgeon Moon is the fourth and final supermoon of the year and it happens to coincide with the Perseid meteor shower, considered by many as “the best meteor shower of the year,” according to NASA. It will peak on August 13 and will remain active through August 24.

And if you happen to notice a bright-looking “star” near the moon, you’re looking at Saturn.

Lunar lovers and star seekers have been enjoying the summer’s stunning celestial performances and here are some of the best photos taken around the globe:

July’s Buck Supermoon

June’s Strawberry Supermoon of June

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