Archive for Outer Space

Students outline $550B plan for colony on moon

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. –  A team of Purdue University students has created a $550 billion plan to colonize the moon as part of a senior design project.

The 1,100-page report outlines plans for a project that the students call Project Artemis. The proposed moon colony would be the first step toward the eventual colonization of Mars.

The moon colony would have three separate outposts where people would live for about four years. The proposed visit would begin in 2024.

Professor James Longuski says the moon outpost would help scientists learn more about the requirements for a one-way trip to Mars, which would be challenged by radiation and low gravity.

The Journal & Courier reports the team presented its report to a crowd of spectators Thursday. NASA administrators in Houston listened by speakerphone.

Astronomers discover most ‘habitable,’ Earth-like planet yet

April 17, 2014: This artist’s rendering provided by NASA on shows an Earth-sized planet dubbed Kepler-186f orbiting a star 500 light-years from Earth. Astronomers say the planet may hold water on its surface and is the best candidate yet of a habitable planet in the ongoing search for an Earth twin.AP/NASA AMES/SETI INSTITUTE/JPL-CALTECH

LOS ANGELES –  Astronomers have discovered what they say is the most Earth-like planet yet detected — a distant, rocky world that’s similar in size to our own and exists in the Goldilocks zone where it’s not too hot and not too cold for life.

The find, announced Thursday, excited planet hunters who have been scouring the Milky Way galaxy for years for potentially habitable places outside our solar system.

“This is the best case for a habitable planet yet found. The results are absolutely rock solid,” University of California, Berkeley astronomer Geoff Marcy, who had no role in the discovery, said in an email.

The planet was detected by NASA’s orbiting Kepler telescope, which examines the heavens for subtle changes in brightness that indicate an orbiting planet is crossing in front of a star. From those changes, scientists can calculate a planet’s size and make certain inferences about its makeup.

The newfound object, dubbed Kepler-186f, circles a red dwarf star 500 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus. A light-year is almost 6 trillion miles.

The planet is about 10 percent larger than Earth and may very well have liquid water — a key ingredient for life — on its surface, scientists said. That is because it resides at the outer edge of the habitable temperature zone around its star — the sweet spot where lakes, rivers or oceans can exist without freezing solid or boiling away.

The planet probably basks in an orange-red glow from its star and is most likely cooler than Earth, with an average temperature slightly above freezing, “similar to dawn or dusk on a spring day,” Marcy said.

The discovery was detailed in Friday’s issue of the journal Science.

Lead researcher Elisa Quintana at NASA’s Ames Research Center said she considers the planet to be more of an “Earth cousin” than a twin because it circles a star that is smaller and dimmer than our sun. While Earth revolves around the sun in 365 days, this planet completes an orbit of its star every 130 days.

“You have a birthday every 130 days on this planet,” she said.

Scientists cannot say for certain whether it has an atmosphere, but if it does, it probably contains a lot of carbon dioxide, outside experts said.

“Don’t take off your breathing mask if you ever land there,” said Lisa Kaltenegger, a Harvard and Max Planck Institute astronomer who had no connection to the research.

Despite the differences, “now we can point to a star and know that there really is a planet very similar to the Earth, at least in size and temperature,” Harvard scientist David Charbonneau, who was not part of the team, said in an email.

Since its launch in 2009, Kepler has confirmed 961 planets, but only a few dozen are in the habitable zone. Most are giant gas balls like Jupiter and Saturn, and not ideal places for life. Scientists in recent years have also found planets slightly larger than Earth in the Goldilocks zone called “super Earths,” but it is unclear if they are rocky.

The latest discovery is the closest in size to Earth than any other known world in the habitable region.

Kepler-186f is part of a system of five planets, all of which are roughly Earth’s size. However, the other planets are too close to their star to support life.

Astronomers may never know for certain whether Kepler-186f can sustain life. The planet is too far away even for next-generation space telescopes like NASA’s overbudget James Webb, set for launch in 2018, to study in detail.

Kepler completed its prime mission and was in overtime when one of the wheels that keep its gaze steady failed last year. NASA has not yet decided whether to keep using the telescope to hunt for planets on a scaled-back basis.

NASA hands over historic Apollo-era launch pad to SpaceX

  • Aerial view of Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA has leased to SpaceX use of the historic pad to launch the company’s rockets over the next 20 years.NASA

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — One of NASA’s most historic launch pads is now under new management.

Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida is now under the direction of SpaceX (Space Exploration Technologies), the private spaceflight company headed by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk. The launch pad, which was the site where Apollo 11 lifted off on the first manned moon landing in July 1969, will now support the company’s rockets and spacecraft as they depart for Earth orbit, and possibly destinations beyond.

“Today, this historic site, from which numerous Apollo and space shuttle missions began, and from which I first flew and left the planet on STS-61C on Columbia, is beginning a new mission as a commercial launch site,” said Charles Bolden, NASA Administrator and former astronaut, during a press conference held at the pad.

[The Rockets and Spaceships of SpaceX (Photos)]

On Monday, NASA signed a property agreement with SpaceX beginning a 20-year lease to occupy and use the launch pad. Over the course of the next two decades, the Hawthorne, California-based company will operate and maintain the facility at its own expense.

“Pad 39A is a historic pad, as we all know, and I am so excited that NASA selected us to be one of their partners and also to be their partner in developing 39A as we move forward into the future of space launch,” Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s president and chief operating officer, said.

“We’ll make great use of this pad, I promise,” she added.

NASA chose SpaceX to lease Complex 39A in December 2013, after determining it no longer had a use for the 40-year-old pad. Instead, the space agency plans to use Pad 39B, Pad 39A’s Apollo-era twin, to support future flights of its Space Launch System rockets and Orion capsules to fly astronauts to the vicinity of the moon and out to Mars.

Since retiring the space shuttle — the fleet’s final mission, STS-135 on shuttle Atlantis, lifted off from 39A in 2011 — NASA has sought private companies, such as SpaceX, to provide commercial launch services to low Earth orbit and the International Space Station. Just hours after the lease was signed, SpaceX was set to launch (from another pad) its third NASA-contracted cargo mission to the outpost but the flight was delayed due to a helium leak.

SpaceX intends to start modifying Pad 39A later this year, in preparation for its first launches in 2015.

“We’ve had architects in our launch site engineering team working for many months on the sidelines,” Shotwell said. “We will launch the Falcon Heavy from here from this pad early next year. We’ll carry on with additional commercial launches next year, and, if we are granted the pleasure of moving forward in the commercial crew program, we would launch the Dragon capsule with crew here at 39A as well.”

SpaceX claims the Falcon Heavy will be the “world’s most powerful rocket.” With its 27 first stage engines and ability to lift to orbit the equivalent mass of a Boeing 737 jetliner loaded with passengers, crew, luggage and fuel, only the Saturn V, last flown from Pad 39A in 1973, delivered more payload to space than will the Falcon Heavy.

SpaceX representatives have said that the company plans to retain and extend upward the 350 foot high fixed service structure that was added to Pad 39A for use by the space shuttle. The pad’s rotating service structure, the large gantry that swung around to envelop the orbiter to install cargo in its payload bay, is not needed for Falcon rockets and may be removed.

“We’ll have to build the launch head or launch crown over the infrastructure here, we’ll leverage a lot of the plumbing that exists, we will have to bring in some of our own, and critically, we’ll be bringing in all of our own instrumentation systems,” Shotwell described. “We’ll be building a hangar … to roll the vehicle out, go vertical and launch.”

NASA’s terms for the lease mandated that several of the pad’s more iconic parts be preserved for history, including the gaseous oxygen vent arm mounted at the top of the fixed service structure and the emergency egress bunker, or “rubber room,” located under the pad’s surface.

Last year, NASA lowered and removed Pad 39A’s orbiter access arm. Capped by a “white room” through which the astronauts entered the shuttle, the arm was held for future display.

They’ll be some modifications to [the launch pad], but the historic elements we are leaving,” Shotwell said.

Pad 39A was originally built in the 1960s to support the Apollo program’s Saturn V rocket before being modified to launch the space shuttle. The pad has hosted 94 launches since November 1967, including 12 Saturn V rockets and 82 shuttles. In addition to Apollo 11, 39A also served as the departure site for Apollo 8, the first manned mission to orbit the moon in 1968; the launch of Skylab, the United States’ first space station; and STS-1, the first flight of the space shuttle.

“Pad 39A has served the spaceflight program well through Apollo and shuttle,” Bob Cabana, director of the Kennedy Space Center and a former astronaut, said. “In fact, my last launch in December of 1988 was from this pad aboard Endeavour as we flew on the first space station assembly mission. It’s going to continue to play a vital in our nation’s future.”

“I’d rather be making history than studying history and that is what we are doing today, making history,” Cabana said.

SpaceX now has responsibility for three launch pads: two in Florida, Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center and Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, and one in southern California, Space Launch Complex 4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base. The company has also said it is consideringestablishing a new launch pad in Texas.

Vision risks for astronauts could be a Mars mission ‘showstopper,’ NASA scientist says

This year Mars will be closer to Earth than it has been since 2007, according to NASA.REUTERS/NASA

Mars may possess a stark and austere beauty, but a manned Red Planet mission will likely not be easy on the eyes.

Recently, scientists have begun realizing that spaceflight can cause serious and perhaps permanent vision problems in astronauts. NASA researchers are working hard to understand the issue, which could present a major hurdle to mounting manned missions to Mars and other faraway destinations.

“This is one that we don’t yet have a good handle on, and it can be a showstopper,” Mark Shelhamer, chief scientist for the NASA Human Research Program at Johnson Space Center in Houston, said last week during a presentation with the agency’s Future In-Space Operations (FISO) working group.

[The Human Body in Space: 6 Weird Facts]

Another peril of microgravity

The human body suffers in the microgravity environment of space. For example, without effective countermeasures — i.e., vigorous weight-bearing exercise — astronauts’ muscles atrophy and their bones shed calcium, becoming more and more brittle over time.

Spaceflight can also affect the eyes. Researchers have known this for decades, but they’re just now beginning to appreciate the gravity of the situation.

“Over the last 40 years there have been reports of visual acuity impairments associated with spaceflight through testing and anecdotal reports,” a 2012 NASA report about spaceflight-related vision problems states. “Until recently, these changes were thought to be transient, but a comparison of pre- and postflight ocular measures have identified a potential risk of permanent visual changes as a result of microgravity exposure.”

The problem is not confined to just a few isolated individuals, either. Postflight examinations performed on about 300 American astronauts since 1989 showed that 29 percent of space shuttle crewmembers (who flew two-week missions) and 60 percent of International Space Station astronauts (who typically spend five or six months in orbit) experienced a degradation of visual acuity, according to a report published this year by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.

Though they don’t yet know for sure, researchers think these eye problems stem primarily from an increase in pressure inside the skull. Cerebrospinal fluid flows into the head more in space than it does on Earth, where gravity pulls it down toward the lower body.

“That increased pressure of cerebrospinal fluid, which surrounds the brain, works its way down the sheath of the optic nerve and pushes on the back of the eyeball,” Shelhamer said during his FISO presentation.

Loss of visual acuity and other problems can result from this scenario, which researchers call VIIP (Visual Impairment/Intracranial Pressure). And the issues can persist for long periods after astronauts touch down, Shelhamer said.

“This has really got our attention,” he said, “because when you start talking about affecting the vision of astronauts, who are in high-performing, demanding environments, and those vision changes do not always correct themselves after weeks or months back on Earth, so you might be causing permanent damage — this is really a serious problem for us.”

Adding to the concern, Shelhamer added, is that researchers don’t yet know if VIIP-related problems will level off or intensify for astronauts who spend more than six months off the planet. A yearlong mission to the space station involving one NASA astronaut and one cosmonaut, which is scheduled to blast off next year, could help in this regard.

More information about the effects of long-term spaceflight is crucial for NASA, which aims to get astronauts to the vicinity of the Red Planet by the mid-2030s. With current propulsion technology, roundtrip missions to Mars will require a year of spaceflight at the minimum, in addition to any time spent on the planet’s surface.

What can be done?

Researchers are still working to understand exactly what’s causing the vision issues. For example, the elevated levels of carbon dioxide found within the space station may be a significant factor in the VIIP phenomenon, Shelhamer said, since high CO2 concentrations are known to increase production of cerebrospinal fluid and dilate blood vessels in the brain.

Speculating on how to prevent or mitigate astronauts’ vision problems may thus be a bit premature at this point. But if the main VIIP hypothesis pans out, artificial gravity would be an obvious countermeasure, Shelhamer said.

Artificial gravity can be induced by spinning a spacecraft — or parts of it.

“You could have people sleep while they’re spinning, so then they just get eight hours or so of artificial gravity,” Shelhamer said.

Artificial gravity would also help mitigate bone loss and muscle degeneration, reducing the need for exercise and potentially freeing up more time for astronauts to perform scientific experiments or do other work during long space missions, advocates say.

Mars makes closest approach to Earth in 6 years Monday ahead of lunar eclipse


A huge night for stargazers is nearly here: On Monday evening, Mars will make its closest approach to Earth in six years, just ahead of a total eclipse of the moon.

Mars will be at its closest to Earth since 2008 when the Red Planet comes within 57.4 million miles of our planet. While that close approach occurs during the daytime, at 8:53 a.m. EDT, Mars will rise later in the southeastern night sky and shine throughout Monday evening as a sort of night sky preview for the first total lunar eclipse of 2014 early Tuesday.

How to see Mars at its best
On April 8, Mars was at opposition to the sun, meaning it was on the opposite side of Earth from the sun — a celestial alignment that occurs every 26 months. The past several years have been lean ones for Mars observers.

Those who witnessed its spectacular 2003 Mars approach, which brought the planet within 34.6 million miles of Earth, have had to settle for increasingly poorer views of the Red Planet as the Earth-Mars orbital geometry became more unfavorable. But that trend is ending with Monday’s event, Mars will make its closest approach to Earth since Jan. 3, 2008.

And yet, despite the improvement, this is still below-average in terms of favorability. Currently, a 6-inch telescope with an eyepiece magnifying 118-power will show Mars’ rust-hued disk appearing as large as the full moon appears with the unaided eye and yielding detail only grudgingly. Even so, observers may be able to spot new features in the light and dark markings that cover the planet’s surface.

On Monday at 2 p.m. EDT (11 a.m. PDT/1800 GMT), the moon will pass 3 degrees south of Mars, an invisible event because the Americas will be in daylight and the moon and Mars will be below our horizon.  When they first appear in the east-southeast sky later that evening, they will have noticeably separated; the moon having moved on to the east, closer to Spica en route to its rendezvous with the Earth’s shadow.

Finally, at 8:45 p.m. local daylight time, compare Mars with the brightest star in the sky — the bluish Sirius (in the south-southwest) — when they stand at equal altitudes. The Observer’s Handbook of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada says both will shine at the same brightness, a magnitude -1.5. Which doyou think appears brighter?

Mars would likely garner most, if not all, of the attention on Monday night if it were not for the total lunar eclipse following soon afterward. But the Red Planet’s close proximity to the soon-to-be-darkened moon will no doubt have not a few people asking the question: “Just what is that fiery-colored object that’s glowing high above the moon?” So at least in a literal sense, Mars will “top” the moon on Monday evening.

Total lunar eclipse could wow U.S.
Mars aside, the moon is poised to wow observers across most of North America with it is eclipsed by Earth’s shadow between 2 a.m. EDT and 5 a.m. EDT (0600 to 0900 GMT) on Tuesday morning. [Total Lunar Eclipse of 2015: Complete Coverage]

Those in the eastern states will have this shady little drama take place between midnight and dawn, while those out based on the U.S. West Coast, in Alaska and Hawaii will see it in the middle of the night. Regardless, many stargazers will be out Monday evening to admire the full moon as it rises over the east-southeast horizon soon after sunset.

There is also religious significance in that this is also the Paschal Full Moon. Simply speaking, the Paschal Full Moon is the first full moon after the spring equinox. This moon sometimes occurs in March and sometimes in April.

The word Paschal means “Passover” in Greek (a transliteration of the Hebrew word “pesach”). Indeed, Monday evening marks the start of Passover. Monday’s full moon is also significant because it is used to determine what date Easter will fall on each year. This is why Easter is a movable holiday, occurring anytime from March 22 to April 25.

Besides the moon and Mars, one other objects are likely to attract some attention. Just below the moon there will be a star shining with a bluish tinge. That will be Spica, the brightest star in the constellation Virgo.

While the moon might seem to overwhelm Spica with its brilliant light early Monday evening, it will be a different story some hours later when the moon is completely immersed in the Earth’s shadow and appears 10,000 to 100,000 times dimmer. Then Spica will stand out like a bluish jewel next to the dull ruddy ball of the totally eclipsed moon.

5 weird things launching into space on SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft Monday

When private spaceflight company SpaceX launches its newest mission to the International Space Station next week it will carry some strange cargo to space.

SpaceX’s unmanned Dragon capsule is scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida atop the company’s Falcon 9 rocket on Monday on its third official resupply trip to the space station. Liftoff is set for 4:58 p.m. EDT (2058 GMT). Among the 5,000 lbs. of cargo riding aboard Dragon are a set of legs for a robotic astronaut, an experimental mini-farm for space vegetables and a wealth of other odd items.

Here are the five strange things flying to space with Dragon:

A robotic astronaut’s legs
NASA’s humanoid robot Robonaut 2 — designed to eventually help astronauts with menial tasks in space — is getting space legs for the first time. The long lower limbs are flying to the station with SpaceX, and they will be attached and initially tested in June.

Once attached, Robonaut 2′s leg span will reach about 9 feet, and each leg has seven joints. The legs should allow for enough flexibility to let Robonaut 2 work outside and inside the International Space Station, however, the robot’s torso will need some upgrades before it can venture outside of the station, NASA officials have said.

The space station’s very own laser
The space station is about to get a new laser communications experiment. Called OPALS, NASA’s Optical Payload for Lasercomm Science, the new laser will help scientists test ways of transferring information more quickly than traditional radio transmission. The new form of communication could aid in future missions to more distant deep-space destinations.

Many existing deep-space missions send 200 to 400 kilobits of data per second, however, OPALS will up that data rate to a speed of up to 50 megabits per second. Future optical communication designs could reach rates of a gigabit per second.

Microbes collected by cheerleaders and the public
Science Cheerleader — a group of science-minded current and former NFL and NBA cheerleaders — helped craft an experiment that will take 48 microbe samples swabbed from historical places into space.

Called Project MERCCURI (short for Microbial Ecology Research Combining Citizen and University Researchers), the experiment is designed to help collect more data on how microbes behave in microgravity. Science Cheerleader partnered with and the University of California, Davis, for the project.

The 48 samples were picked by a team led by professor Jonathan Eisen at UC Davis. The cheerleaders and other members of the public collected 4,000 possible samples for the flight. One of the swabs chosen to fly is from John Glenn’s 1962 Mercury capsule, Friendship 7.

A satellite with the brain of a smartphone
NASA is sending its next cubesat built from a smartphone up to the space station on Dragon next week. Called PhoneSat 2.5, the new, tiny satellite is the fifth in a series of smartphone-based satellites launched to space. The space agency is developing these small satellites to see how well relatively cheap electronics can perform in the vacuum of space. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the PhoneSat can make calls.

“If I showed PhoneSat to you, you’d ask, ‘Where’s the phone?” Bruce Yost, program manager for NASA’s Small Spacecraft Technology program, said in a statement last month. “That’s because, although we buy the smartphone off the shelf, much like the one in your pocket or purse, we take it apart and repackage it to fit in the cubesat form and work in space.”

Vegetables that grow in space
It’s time to grow more food in space. A new plant growth experiment called Veg-01 will use a miniature space farm called “Veggie.” It is launching to the station so astronauts can start growing “Outredgeous” lettuce seedlings on the orbiting outpost.

“Veggie will provide a new resource for U.S. astronauts and researchers as we begin to develop the capabilities of growing fresh produce and other large plants on the space station,” Gioia Massa, NASA payload scientist for Veggie, said in a statement. “Determining food safety is one of our primary goals for this validation test.”

With NASA officials hoping to mount a crewed mission to Mars or other deep-space destinations sometime in the future, it is important to learn more about safely growing food in space, space agency officials have said.

NASA-funded researchers spot first possible ‘exomoon’

Researchers have detected the first “exomoon” candidate — a moon orbiting a planet that lies outside our solar systemNASA-JPL CALTECH

NASA-funded researchers say they have spotted the first signs of what could be an “exomoon” – a moon orbiting a planet outside our solar system – after witnessing a chance encounter between objects in our galaxy.

“We won’t have a chance to observe the exomoon candidate again,” said David Bennett of the University of Notre Dame, Ind., the lead author of a new paper on the findings that will be featured in the Astrophysical Journal. “But we can expect more unexpected finds like this.”

The possible exomoon was discovered during a study by the joint Japan-New Zealand-American Microlensing Observations in Astrophysics and the Probing Lensing Anomalies NETwork (PLANET) programs, using telescopes based in New Zealand and Tasmania.

In the study, researchers used a technique called gravitational microlensing, where stars can be analyzed as one passes in front of a more distant star.

In this instance, astronomers observed two objects close together simultaneously passing in front of a far away star.

“The ratio of the larger body to its smaller companion is 2,000 to 1,” NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology said in a statement. “That means the pair could be either a small, faint star circled by a planet about 18 times the mass of Earth — or a planet more massive than Jupiter coupled with a moon weighing less than Earth.”

Since the chance encounter can only be observed once, researchers are uncertain as to which scenario is the case.

“One possibility is for the lensing system to be a planet and its moon, which if true, would be a spectacular discovery of a totally new type of system,” said Wes Traub, the chief scientist for NASA’s Exoplanet Exploration Program office at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

If one of the objects is an exomoon, it could be orbiting a planet that was ejected from the confines of another planetary system, while keeping its companion moon in tow, the lab says.

To date, astronomers have discovered more than 1,700 alien planets, but they have yet to find an exomoon, according to

SpaceX to launch robotic capsule to International Space Station next week

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Dragon capsule filled with cargo for the International Space Station lifts off from the Space Launch Complex 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida in this March 1, 2013 NASA handout photo obtained by Reuters.REUTERS

A private spaceflight company will launch its third robotic resupply mission to the International Space Station next week.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket carrying the company’s unmanned Dragon vehicle loaded down with supplies is expected to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April 14. This will be SpaceX’s third official flight to the station under a $1.6 billion contract with NASA to fly 12 missions to the orbiting outpost using the Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket. You can watch the SpaceX launch live on via NASA TV starting at 3:45 p.m. ET on April 14. Launch is scheduled for 4:58 p.m. ET.

Dragon will fly to the station loaded down with 5,000 lbs. of cargo and scientific experiments, according to NASA. The supplies include legs for Robonaut 2, a humanoid robot designed to eventually assist astronauts on the station with their day-to-day tasks. SpaceX initially aimed to launch the Dragon delivery mission in March, but damage to a ground-based U.S. Air Force radar station used to support Florida launches delayed the flight.

[See photos of SpaceX's third resupply trip to the station]

“These new legs, funded by NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations and Space Technology mission directorates, will provide R2 [Robonaut 2] the mobility it needs to help with regular and repetitive tasks inside and outside the space station,” NASA officials said in a statement on March 12. “The goal is to free up the crew for more critical work, including scientific research.”

SpaceX’s Dragon will stay attached to the station’s Harmony module until mid-May when it will detach and splash down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja California, NASA officials said. When it splashes down, Dragon is expected to be carrying about 3,000 lbs. of experiments and equipment that can be recovered on Earth.

At the moment, Dragon capsules are the only robotic cargo vehicles capable of bringing supplies back to Earth from the orbiting outpost. Other robotic spacecraft like Russia’s Progress vehicles or Europe’s Automated Transfer Vehicles can deliver supplies to the station, but are designed to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere after leaving port.

NASA also has contract with Orbital Sciences to fly cargo missions to the station using the Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft. The Dulles, Va.-based company has a $1.9 billion deal with the space agency for eight unmanned flights.

If launch occurs on time, Dragon is due to arrive at the station at around 7 a.m. ET on April 16. If the SpaceX launch does not occur on time, there will be another opportunity for launch on April 18.

NASA Curiosity rover captures mysterious bright light on Mars

This image was taken by NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity’s Navcam on April 3.NASA/JPL-CALTECH

Is the truth really out there?

A NASA picture of a mysterious bright light on Mars has sparked the interest of UFO believers. But before we cry extraterrestrial, the bright light may be nothing more than a “glinty rock.”

‘We think it’s either a vent-hole light leak or a glinty rock.’- NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineer Justin Maki

“One possibility is that the light is the glint from a rock surface reflecting the sun,” NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) lead for the engineering cameras on Curiosity Justin Maki told

Maki explained that the bright spots appear in single images taken by the Navigation Camera on NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover’s right-eye but not its left. In the right-eye images, the spot is in different locations and is seen at the ground surface level in front of a crater rim on the horizon.

“When these images were taken each day, the sun was in the same direction as the bright spot, west-northwest from the rover, and relatively low in the sky,” said Maki. “The rover science team is also looking at the possibility that the bright spots could be sunlight reaching the camera’s CCD directly through a vent hole in the camera housing, which has happened previously on other cameras on Curiosity and other Mars rovers when the geometry of the incoming sunlight relative to the camera is precisely aligned.”

“We think it’s either a vent-hole light leak or a glinty rock.”

The picture was captured on April 3 by the right-hand navigation camera on NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover.

Spectacular solar scene: Burst of radiation erupts from sun

NASA unveiled incredible footage of a solar flare erupting from the surface of the sun. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory captured the mid-level flair peaked at 10:05 am (EDT) on April 2.

Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation from the sun. Harmful radiation from these flares do not affect humans as they cannot pass through Earth’s atmosphere.

However, they can interrupt the layer where GPS and communication signals travel when intense enough.

The April 2 flare is classified as an M6.5 — a mid-sized flare that is ten times less powerful than most intense flares.