Jessica Watkins spent her PhD studying landslides on Mars. Now she is among the few humans with a shot at being the first to walk on the red planet.
In January, Watkins graduated as a member of NASA’s newest astronaut class. As a planetary geologist, she is a leading candidate to participate in the agency’s Artemis programme, which aims to send people back to the Moon by the end of 2024. Further down the line — Watkins is only 32 years old — there might even be a trip to Mars.
More immediately, Watkins is helping two of her fellow astronauts to prepare for a milestone launch on 27 May, which will be the first time a commercial company flies astronauts into low-Earth orbit.
Nature spoke to Watkins about her career and about the role of human endeavour in the age of a global pandemic.
Why did you decide to join the astronaut corps?
I have wanted to be an astronaut since I was pretty little. There was something that always pulled me towards space — the idea of exploration, of wanting to push boundaries and capabilities, both technically and physically, but also mentally and spiritually. I kind of stumbled into geology and fell in love with that. And then the stars aligned for me to end up here.
What’s your favourite planet?
Mars is definitely my first love. I remember writing a book about a Martian in fifth grade. What intrigued me the most about Mars is how Earth-like it is, and how we’re able to use the Earth as an analogue to understand more about Mars and Mars’ history.
Now, given the direction that NASA is going in — we’re talking about going back to the Moon in 2024, through Artemis — the Moon has become a significant interest as well. I’m definitely brushing up on lunar geology and what it’s going to be like on the surface.
What kind of training did your astronaut class get in field geology?
That was one of the most fun parts for me. We went to New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, and a lot of the locations where the Apollo guys trained. We were literally following in their footsteps. We went to lots of lava flows, just really trying to get a good understanding of what types of rocks we may encounter and how to observe and document them — learning just enough skills to enable scientists here on the ground to do their own investigations with the data the crew are obtaining.
What would it be like for you, as a geologist, to step onto the lunar surface?
The first [Artemis] mission or two may look more like test missions, where the science might be more limited in order to prove technological capabilities. Thinking a little bit further down the line, when science is really a main goal, the landing site will drive a lot of the interesting scientific questions. Where we’re thinking about going, the lunar south pole — one of the big things that we are looking for are potential ice deposits, volatile-rich regions in permanently shadowed regions.
Do you know what your first spaceflight assignment will be?
It is a super-exciting time for human spaceflight. We have the International Space Station, which is our main destination right now, and soon we will start up the Artemis programme. We are living in this awesome time where there are lots of possibilities. It all depends on how some of those moving pieces shake out. [My first flight] could be soon, or it could be a little bit longer.
How can space exploration inspire us when the world is facing a public-health crisis?
This pandemic is asking us to band together as humans, to do the right thing to help save each other. There’s something really analogous to human spaceflight in that. Human spaceflight is about humans pursuing hard things, doing it together, and doing it in spite of differences that we may have created.
Coming up [this month] we’re going to be launching a new vehicle, a SpaceX launch in the commercial crew programme, the first one from American soil since the space shuttle. That will be a shining moment for us, not just for America but for all humans, to be able to see beyond.
Having that perspective allows you to see the Earth for what it is. It’s one body. We’re all in this together.
In Space No One Can Hear You Campaign: Trump Team Pulls Ad – NDTV
President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign has pulled a video featuring the SpaceX launch and astronauts which appeared to violate NASA’s media regulations, reports said.
The “Make Space Great Again” YouTube ad posted on YouTube showed footage from the Apollo program, as well as video of the landmark SpaceX Demo-2 mission and NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, the SpaceNews.com website said.
YouTube shows the video was removed by the uploader.
NASA generally allows use of its images and video but prohibits the use of its insignia and photographs of its astronauts in advertisements.
“As a government agency, NASA will not promote or endorse or appear to promote or endorse a commercial product, service or activity. Therefore, there are strict limits placed on the use of any of the NASA identities and emblem imagery in advertisements,” the space agency’s advertising regulations say.
“Astronauts or employees who are currently employed by NASA cannot have their names, likenesses or other personality traits displayed in any advertisements or marketing material.”
Hurley’s wife Karen Nyberg, a retired astronaut, and their young son were also reportedly shown in the clip.
“I find it disturbing that a video image of me and my son is being used in political propaganda without my knowledge or consent. That is wrong,” Nyberg tweeted.
A Change.org petition to “Stop Donald Trump politicizing SpaceX and NASA accomplishments” has attracted more than 6,000 signatures so far.
The New York Times described the video as “the latest effort by the president to parlay his stewardship of American space policy into an upbeat campaign issue.”
The SpaceX mission, which blasted off from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center on May 30, was the first crewed US spacecraft in nearly a decade.
Trump, who witnessed the liftoff, has relaunched the race to re-conquer the Moon and to journey onwards to the Red Planet.
But the deadlines — 2024 and 2033 respectively — appear unrealistic and have caused turbulence within the space agency.
(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)
Donald Trumps campaign team pulls ad featuring NASA astronauts after backlash – Republic World – Republic World
US President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign pulled a video featuring the historic Dragon Crew launch after backlash from astronauts and NASA officials. Trump has been trying to project the success of NASA and SpaceX as an achievement of his administration and the latest video appeared to be in violation of the space agency’s policy.
Advertisement video posted on YouTube reportedly showed the footage of the Apollo program, and the Demo-2 mission, which resurrected the human spaceflight capability of the United States. NASA prohibits the use of any of the NASA identities and emblem imagery in advertisements. NASA’s advertising regulations say that the space agency will not promote or endorse or appear to promote or endorse a commercial product, service or activity.
“Astronauts or employees who are currently employed by NASA cannot have their names, likenesses or other personality traits displayed in any advertisements or marketing material,” the regulations read.
Retired NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg, the wife of Doug Hurley who flew in the Dragon Crew spacecraft along with Bob Behnken, raised strong objection to the used of her photograph in the advertisement. Taking to Twitter, Nyberg said that she finds it “disturbing” that the video image was used without her consent.
A Change.org petition was initiated to stop Trump from politicising accomplishments of SpaceX and NASA and has attracted nearly 7,000 signatures so far. The petition argued that the NASA Commercial Crew Program has been around in its current form since the Obama Administration, and its roots go back to the Bush Administration.
It said that NASA and the space industry as a whole have long tried to stay out of politics, and, until this Administration, that goal was at least partially attained. The petition further added that implying any one person was responsible for the SpaceX-NASA Crew Demo-2 launch is an “insult to the work of the teams” that meaningfully contributed to its success.
A Strawberry Moon rises along with a partial eclipse on Friday – CTV News
A Strawberry Moon will rise on Friday and will pass through part of the shadow of the Earth in what is called a partial penumbral eclipse of the moon.
But don’t expect a red-hued moon resembling a “blood moon,” which occurs when there is a total lunar eclipse.
Rather, the Strawberry Moon gets its name for the time of year the full moon appears, according to NASA.
The space agency said the Algonquin tribes named the Strawberry Moon as such because it occurs during the relatively short season for harvesting strawberries in the north-eastern United States.
In Europe, NASA said the full moon has been called the Mead Moon or the Honey Moon after the fermented drink.
In appearance, the Old Farmer’s Almanac said the Strawberry Moon will appear large and golden-hued when it rises above the horizon. NASA said the moon will appear full for about three days, from early Thursday morning into early Sunday morning.
While the full moon will be a sight in and of itself, celestial watchers will be treated to an accompanying partial eclipse of the moon on Friday, depending on where they live.
Unfortunately for those in North America, the penumbral lunar eclipse won’t be visible because the moon becomes full during daylight hours when it’s below the horizon.
For observers in Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia, however, the moon will appear ever-so-slightly darker than normal as it passes through the outer edge of Earth’s shadow (the penumbra). The dimming effect won’t be as a dramatic as a total eclipse and will be difficult to detect for the casual watcher staring up at the sky.
The partial penumbral eclipse of the moon will occur on Friday afternoon at 3:12 p.m. Eastern.
Although moon-gazers in North America won’t be able to witness the partial eclipse in person, they can still livestream the lunar event thanks to the Virtual Telescope Project, which will stream the view above Rome’s skyline in Italy beginning at 3 p.m. Eastern.
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