China signals Lunar Landing within Decade…

…we were done with the moon, ANYWAY — STUPID MOON!
  — Jon Stewart

In a spot from The Daily Show four years ago, Jon Stewart pokes fun at the fact that India found water on the Moon, that the United States missed in the last forty years of exploration.  “Billions of gallons of it.”

Jon Stewart: “…I didn’t know NASA had a base in India!”
Aasif Mandvi: “THEY DON’T!  This is the Indian Space Research Organization!”

Parody aside, the latest space news is that the People’s Republic of China, the rising super-power directly challenging the United States’ unchallenged military presence on, above or AROUND the world, is now setting it’s sights on a lunar landing.

Launching its own [uninhabited] test space station, designated Tiangong 1 (Heavenly Palace 1) in 2011, the Tiangong Space Program is China’s attempt to place a large, modular space station in orbit by the beginning of the next decade.  From here, Chinese cosmonauts can conduct their own research and development, as well as support it’s own lunar program, free from the stranglehold the United States and it’s allies has had on Space for the last half-century.

China may be coming to space-faring late, compared to the United States, Russia and India, however, let’s look at the current setups: The United States has a minimal space program, with NO current flight ability of it’s own.  Astronauts/Cosmonauts from the United States require the use of launch vehicles and equipment from the Russian Federation (and to a limited point, at this time, private companies such as SpaceX) to reach, resupply or restaff its interests aboard the International Space Station.   Indeed, another sign of the times is the massive cut NASA took from the President’s pen, through Congress, in appropriations.  The Space Shuttle was retired.  The successor to the Space Shuttle, the Apollo-inspired Project Constellation, was cancelled, leaving the United States military and government’s ability to reach out to the stars in limbo for the foreseeable future.

Indeed, this was echoed by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.  “NASA is not going to the Moon with a human as a primary project probably in my lifetime,” he stated.

However, he continued: “…and the reason is, we can only do so many things,”

While he didn’t specifically elaborate, it’s possible that NASA’s future plans could lie elsewhere — specifically, landings on asteroids, or even Mars, in relatively short order.

While the cancellation of the Constellation Project puts a American landing on Mars anytime soon in question, as Orion was designed with the intention of being capable of travelling to both the Moon AND to Mars, will American innovation and the memories of the Space Race of the 1960s embolden American spirit in an even broader space race?

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2700 Planets so far…

An artist's depiction of an extrasolar, Earthl...

An artist’s depiction of an extrasolar, Earthlike planet. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

NASA’s Kepler Observatory satellite has discovered over 2700 exoplanets so far…  and counting.  Most of these are super-earths — however, there’s a lot more there, according to the people who run it.

Ames Research Center scientists have the Observatory’s Photometer observes 145,000 Main Sequence stars simultaneously, looking for the slightest dimming of the stars that indicate an orbital body.  Of these, 114 have been actually confirmed and observed, one of them is a Mars-sized planet.

Ames also believes that, based on the observed planets, with the confirmations in mind, that the galaxy is full of Earth-sized planets.

Yale Astronomy Professor Debra Fisher, who has worked on improving the planet-detecting technology we have today to detect Earth-sized planets, says it’s only a matter of time before we detect life on other planets; specifically, those in the ‘habitable zone‘ of the stars they observe — that is, the area that’s “just right” in light and temperature, for life to flourish.

Do you think we’ll find alien life in our lifetime?

NASAs FY ’14 Budget: Catch an Asteroid…

Satellite-Asteroid

Artist conception of a satellite on an Asteroid

In NASA’s next year’s fiscal budget, to be formally announced by the Obama Administration soon, it includes an appropriation of $100 Million for a satellite to capture an Asteroid and deliver it into the orbit of the Moon for study and possible mining.

Back in February, two large asteroids came closer to Earth than most of it’s communication satellites — one exploding in the skies over Russia, causing a fair amount of damage.  Could this be the Obama Administration’s response to the startling realization that Earth is indeed susceptible to strikes by the rocky and metallic objects?

russia-meteor-explosion

Meteor explosion over Russia

Aside from testing our ability to launch a satellite or other object to intercept and deflect an incoming stellar body — this could be an incredible chance for study… finding out more about what makes our universe works; as well as a possible source of rare minerals, or even possibly minerals not native to Earth.

Is this worth the hefty pricetag in today’s economy?  Could an investment today save us in the future — or is this something we should put off for another day?