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Stranded in Orbit: What's Next for Boeing's Starliner Capsule – Space.com

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Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner won’t make it to the International Space Station (ISS) this weekend as planned, but the new crew capsule still has a busy few days ahead of it.

Starliner lifted off atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket early this morning (Dec. 20), kicking off a critical uncrewed test mission to the ISS called Orbital Flight Test (OFT). The launch went well initially, but an issue with the capsule’s internal timing system prevented Starliner from performing the engine burns needed to meet up with the orbiting lab, NASA officials and Boeing representatives said.

“It’s safe to take off the table at this point, given the amount of fuel that we burned,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said during a news conference today, referring to the ISS docking and rendezvous operations that were a core part of the original OFT plan.

Related: Boeing’s 1st Starliner Flight Test in Photos

The timing problem apparently caused Starliner to believe, mistakenly, that it was performing an orbital insertion burn, Bridenstine added. This maneuver requires a precise orientation, so Starliner fired up its reaction-control thrusters to maintain that attitude — and kept firing them for a while.

“By the time we got that figured out, we had burned sufficient fuel that if we would’ve done an orbit-insertion burn to get to the International Space Station, it might not have been enough,” Bridenstine said. 

But all is not lost, Bridenstine stressed. Starliner is in a stable orbit and remains healthy, so the NASA-Boeing team is learning a great deal about how the capsule performs in space and ticking off some OFT milestones as well.

One big milestone Starliner’s handlers aim to achieve is a safe, controlled landing. The NASA-Boeing team still plans to bring Starliner down softly at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico and is already taking steps to make that happen.

Indeed, Starliner’s handlers have planned out two engine burns for today. Those maneuvers, which are scheduled for 1:40 p.m. EST and 2:25 p.m. EST (1840 and 1925 GMT), will raise the capsule’s orbit “to optimize the landing at White Sands,” Steve Stich, deputy manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, said during today’s news conference. 

Starliner’s current, non-circular orbit takes it as close to Earth as 116 miles (186 kilometers) and as far away as 134 miles (216 km), Stich added. (For perspective: The ISS circles our planet at an altitude of about 250 miles, or 400 km.)

The earliest landing opportunity for Starliner would come Sunday (Dec. 22) around 7:30 a.m. EST (1230 GMT), Stich said. That’s six days earlier than the original OFT timeline, which envisioned a touchdown on Dec. 28.

But a Dec. 22 return is not set in stone. The team may decide to keep Starliner in orbit for a little longer to notch a few more milestones, such as stationkeeping performance, Bridenstine and others said. The team is still assessing the situation — both what exactly went wrong, and what the path forward should be — so the current thinking may well shift.

And it’s too soon to map out the next steps for the Starliner test campaign, Bridenstine said. For example, it’s unclear if NASA — which has funded Starliner’s development via the Commercial Crew Program — will want the capsule to ace a second version of OFT before astronauts ride the vehicle. In the original plan, OFT was to be followed by a crewed demonstration mission to the ISS in mid-2020, which would then clear the way for operational, contracted flights.

“I think it’s too early for us to make that assessment,” Bridenstine said. 

He also noted that, if astronauts had been on board Starliner today, they may well have been able to troubleshoot the timing issue and get the capsule on its intended way. (Bridenstine further stressed that today’s anomaly would not have posed a safety risk to crew.)

Starliner isn’t the only private astronaut taxi in development. SpaceX also holds a NASA commercial crew deal, which it will fulfill with its Crew Dragon capsule. Crew Dragon successfully flew its version of OFT, which was called Demo-1, back in March. (That capsule was destroyed the next month, however, during a ground test of its thruster systems.)

SpaceX is prepping for another crucial milestone next month, an in-flight abort (IFA) test that will demonstrate Crew Dragon’s emergency escape system. If all goes well with the IFA, SpaceX will be clear to proceed with Demo-2, its crewed demonstration flight to the orbiting lab.

Mike Wall’s book about the search for alien life, “Out There” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), is out now. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook

Need more space? Subscribe to our sister title “All About Space” Magazine for the latest amazing news from the final frontier! (Image credit: All About Space)

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The Moon is rusting, and researchers want to know why – Pattaya Mail

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The Moon as viewed by NASA’s Mariner 10 in 1973, well before research would find signs of rust on the airless surface. Credits: NASA/JPL/Northwestern University

While our Moon is airless, research indicates the presence of hematite, a form of rust that normally requires oxygen and water. That has scientists puzzled.

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Mars has long been known for its rust. Iron on its surface, combined with water and oxygen from the ancient past, give the Red Planet its hue. But scientists were recently surprised to find evidence that our airless Moon has rust on it as well.

A new paper in Science Advances reviews data from the Indian Space Research Organization’s Chandrayaan-1 orbiter, which discovered water ice and mapped out a variety of minerals while surveying the Moon’s surface in 2008. Lead author Shuai Li of the University of Hawaii has studied that water extensively in data from Chandrayaan-1’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper instrument, or M3, which was built by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. Water interacts with rock to produce a diversity of minerals, and M3 detected spectra – or light reflected off surfaces – that revealed the Moon’s poles had a very different composition than the rest of it.

Intrigued, Li homed in on these polar spectra. While the Moon’s surface is littered with iron-rich rocks, he nevertheless was surprised to find a close match with the spectral signature of hematite. The mineral is a form of iron oxide, or rust, produced when iron is exposed to oxygen and water. But the Moon isn’t supposed to have oxygen or liquid water, so how can it be rusting?

Metal Mystery

The mystery starts with the solar wind, a stream of charged particles that flows out from the Sun, bombarding Earth and the Moon with hydrogen. Hydrogen makes it harder for hematite to form. It’s what is known as a reducer, meaning it adds electrons to the materials it interacts with. That’s the opposite of what is needed to make hematite: For iron to rust, it requires an oxidizer, which removes electrons. And while the Earth has a magnetic field shielding it from this hydrogen, the Moon does not.

“It’s very puzzling,” Li said. “The Moon is a terrible environment for hematite to form in.” So he turned to JPL scientists Abigail Fraeman and Vivian Sun to help poke at M3’s data and confirm his discovery of hematite.

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“At first, I totally didn’t believe it. It shouldn’t exist based on the conditions present on the Moon,” Fraeman said. “But since we discovered water on the Moon, people have been speculating that there could be a greater variety of minerals than we realize if that water had reacted with rocks.”

After taking a close look, Fraeman and Sun became convinced M3’s data does indeed indicate the presence of hematite at the lunar poles. “In the end, the spectra were convincingly hematite-bearing, and there needed to be an explanation for why it’s on the Moon,” Sun said.

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Three Key Ingredients

Their paper offers a three-pronged model to explain how rust might form in such an environment. For starters, while the Moon lacks an atmosphere, it is in fact home to trace amounts of oxygen. The source of that oxygen: our planet. Earth’s magnetic field trails behind the planet like a windsock. In 2007, Japan’s Kaguya orbiter discovered that oxygen from Earth’s upper atmosphere can hitch a ride on this trailing magnetotail, as it’s officially known, traveling the 239,000 miles (385,00 kilometers) to the Moon.

That discovery fits with data from M3, which found more hematite on the Moon’s Earth-facing near side than on its far side. “This suggested that Earth’s oxygen could be driving the formation of hematite,” Li said. The Moon has been inching away from Earth for billions of years, so it’s also possible that more oxygen hopped across this rift when the two were closer in the ancient past.

Then there’s the matter of all that hydrogen being delivered by the solar wind. As a reducer, hydrogen should prevent oxidation from occurring. But Earth’s magnetotail has a mediating effect. Besides ferrying oxygen to the Moon from our home planet, it also blocks over 99% of the solar wind during certain periods of the Moon’s orbit (specifically, whenever it’s in the full Moon phase). That opens occasional windows during the lunar cycle when rust can form.

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The third piece of the puzzle is water. While most of the Moon is bone dry, water ice can be found in shadowed lunar craters on the Moon’s far side. But the hematite was detected far from that ice. The paper instead focuses on water molecules found in the lunar surface. Li proposes that fast-moving dust particles that regularly pelt the Moon could release these surface-borne water molecules, mixing them with iron in the lunar soil. Heat from these impacts could increase the oxidation rate; the dust particles themselves may also be carrying water molecules, implanting them into the surface so that they mix with iron. During just the right moments – namely, when the Moon is shielded from the solar wind and oxygen is present – a rust-inducing chemical reaction could occur.

More data is needed to determine exactly how the water is interacting with rock. That data could also help explain another mystery: why smaller quantities of hematite are also forming on the far side of the Moon, where the Earth’s oxygen shouldn’t be able to reach it.

More Science to Come

Fraeman said this model may also explain hematite found on other airless bodies like asteroids. “It could be that little bits of water and the impact of dust particles are allowing iron in these bodies to rust,” she said.

Li noted that it’s an exciting time for lunar science. Almost 50 years since the last Apollo landing, the Moon is a major destination again. NASA plans to send dozens of new instruments and technology experiments to study the Moon beginning next year, followed by human missions beginning in 2024 all as part of the Artemis program.

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JPL is also building a new version of M3 for an orbiter called Lunar Trailblazer. One of its instruments, the High-resolution Volatiles and Minerals Moon Mapper (HVM3), will be mapping water ice in permanently shadowed craters on the Moon, and may be able to reveal new details about hematite as well.

“I think these results indicate that there are more complex chemical processes happening in our solar system than have been previously recognized,” Sun said. “We can understand them better by sending future missions to the Moon to test these hypotheses.”

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This modular home workout setup fits in your closet, no more excuses to not exercise! – Yanko Design

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Few industries have changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic like the fitness industry has changed. Acclimating to the increasingly strange times, home gym designers have taken to the drawing boards by storm. Working out at home is possible, yes. Fun? Depends. Comfortable? Hard to say. What’s definite is that the team at G-Wall turned the everchanging state of 2020 into the well-knit, conceptual core of their sleek, modular home gym design. Recently, the designers behind the G-Wall Home Fitness System were presented with 2020’s K-Design Award.

Instead of answering the unanswerable (really, who can say what’s up next for 2020), the team behind G-Wall designed their home gym specifically so that it could be stored behind a closet or armoire cabinet’s door. That way the time that you would have spent making room for your home fitness system, instead is spent actually putting it to use. G-Wall’s Home Fitness System has several standout features: variable modules, user-adjustability, and compatibility, to name a few. Each user decides on which modules they want to comprise the larger system. This means that despite the amount of space in your home, G-Wall’s design makes it possible to incorporate a home gym anywhere. The different modules that users can decide on range from cardiovascular equipment, to free weights and even heavy training. The gear that comes with each module is stored in cabinets or racks that easily hang behind doors or however the user deems appropriate for their personal space.

Once quarantine started, many of us twiddled our thumbs while figuring out how to stay healthy and active within the confines of our respective homes. Fitness and health remained a top priority for many global citizens. It was never a question of compromise or adjustment when it came to working out during quarantine. Rather, designers and gym-goers took to the drawing boards to concoct their own solutions. That’s all to say that while the fitness industry has indeed changed with 2020’s unpredictable timeline, some of the most innovative new designs have been devised. Such deliberate and convenient designs like G-Wall prove that as unanswerable as some questions may be, as uncertain as the time may feel, design’s practical and adaptive nature is one thing on which we can always depend.

Designers: Tan Xuwen, Zhang Hu, Huang Shumei, Tong Bomin, Gao Lin x Guangdong Piano Customized Furniture Co., Ltd.









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A Physicist Has Come Up With Math That Makes 'Paradox-Free' Time Travel Plausible – ScienceAlert

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No one has yet managed to travel through time – at least to our knowledge – but the question of whether or not such a feat would be theoretically possible continues to fascinate scientists.

As movies such as The Terminator, Donnie Darko, Back to the Future and many others show, moving around in time creates a lot of problems for the fundamental rules of the Universe: if you go back in time and stop your parents from meeting, for instance, how can you possibly exist in order to go back in time in the first place?

It’s a monumental head-scratcher known as the ‘grandfather paradox’, but now a physics student Germain Tobar, from the University of Queensland in Australia, says he has worked out how to “square the numbers” to make time travel viable without the paradoxes.

“Classical dynamics says if you know the state of a system at a particular time, this can tell us the entire history of the system,” says Tobar.

“However, Einstein’s theory of general relativity predicts the existence of time loops or time travel – where an event can be both in the past and future of itself – theoretically turning the study of dynamics on its head.”

What the calculations show is that space-time can potentially adapt itself to avoid paradoxes.

To use a topical example, imagine a time traveller journeying into the past to stop a disease from spreading – if the mission was successful, the time traveller would have no disease to go back in time to defeat.

Tobar’s work suggests that the disease would still escape some other way, through a different route or by a different method, removing the paradox. Whatever the time traveller did, the disease wouldn’t be stopped.

Tobar’s work isn’t easy for non-mathematicians to dig into, but it looks at the influence of deterministic processes (without any randomness) on an arbitrary number of regions in the space-time continuum, and demonstrates how both closed timelike curves (as predicted by Einstein) can fit in with the rules of free will and classical physics.

“The maths checks out – and the results are the stuff of science fiction,” says physicist Fabio Costa from the University of Queensland, who supervised the research.

Fabio Costa (left) and Germain Tobar (right). (Ho Vu)

The new research smooths out the problem with another hypothesis, that time travel is possible but that time travellers would be restricted in what they did, to stop them creating a paradox. In this model, time travellers have the freedom to do whatever they want, but paradoxes are not possible.

While the numbers might work out, actually bending space and time to get into the past remains elusive – the time machines that scientists have devised so far are so high-concept that for they currently only exist as calculations on a page.

We might get there one day – Stephen Hawking certainly thought it was possible – and if we do then this new research suggests we would be free to do whatever we wanted to the world in the past: it would readjust itself accordingly.

“Try as you might to create a paradox, the events will always adjust themselves, to avoid any inconsistency,” says Costa. “The range of mathematical processes we discovered show that time travel with free will is logically possible in our universe without any paradox.”

The research has been published in Classical and Quantum Gravity.

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