Rank #1: Exciting Year Ahead For Space Exploration
There’s a bunch of exciting space exploration mission slated for 2018. From SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy to NASA’s next Mars lander, space enthusiasts have a lot to look forward to in the new year.
Chris Gebhardt, NASASpaceflight.com‘s managing editor, joins the program to talk about all the exciting missions ahead this year.
Highlights from Chris’ 2018 watch list:
Even thought Cassini crashed into Saturn last year, Gebhardt said there’s still plenty to learn about the ringed planet. “Towards the latter part of it’s final orbits, it was actually brushing up against the top of Saturn’s atmosphere and dip-diving into Saturn,” he said. “All of that data, while it was returned last year in the final days of Cassin’s mission, scientists are analyzing it and looking at all of that.”
This Planetary Society-backed project hopes to provide spacecraft propulsion by harnessing the power of the sun in a space “sail”. LightSail captures the particles released from the sun and uses them to push a sail through space. “Once it’s in orbit, it’s going to deploy this really huge sail relative to the size of the spacecraft itself. What they’re going to try to do is use that sail to progressively raise that satellites orbit,” said Gebhardt.
The mission is slated for a launch on Falcon Heavy later this year.
New Horizons Flyby
In 20115, New Horizons thrust Pluto back into the spotlight after sending incredible images of the dwarf planet back to Earth. The spacecraft is now targeting a flyby of Kuiper belt object 2014 MU69.
“This mission just keeps on giving in very surprising and intriguing ways,” said Gebhardt. “It’s revealing a lot about a region of the solar system that’s very difficult to see.” The flyby begins in the early hours of January 1, 2019 — but most of the prep is happening in 2018.
The InSight lander launches en route to Mars from South America in May, and when it gets there, it hopes to uncover how rocky planets of the inner solar system, including Earth, came to be more than four billion years ago.
“What’s really cool is that there are CubeSats going on this mission,” said Gebhardt. The tiny satellites will be deployed right before the lander makes its final approach of the red planet, and they’ll be used to help navigate the lander onto the surface of Mars and relay all that information back to Earth. “It’s a really cool experiment to use CubeSats to really help maintain contact with landing spacecraft on another planet.”
Jan 05 2018
Rank #2: The Race To Deep Space
The race to deep space is on. NASA has its eyes set on the moon then Mars, and other private companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin have ambitious plans to send humans into deep space. So just how close are we to breaking the bonds of Earth’s gravity once more and exploring other worlds? We’ll speak with Mary Lynn Dittmar, President and CEO of the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration.
Then – astronomers are picking up a strange signal from somewhere in space. Fast Radio Bursts are puzzling scientists — where are they coming from and what’s causing them? On this week’s “I’d Like to Know” segment, we’ll ask our panel of experts about these interesting new waves.
Mar 03 2020
Rank #3: Talking To Aliens
Are we alone in the universe? Probably not. Scientists are hard at work looking for signs of life here in our solar system and beyond. But what will we say to those extraterrestrials when we find them?
Author and journalist Daniel Oberhaus delves into the efforts to talk with alien civilizations in his new book “Extraterrestrial Languages.” We’ll talk with Oberhaus about the attempts to speak with other civilizations in the universe and why many scientists think it’s a bad idea to reach out to them first.
Then, as we continue to venture into our solar system, there’s a greater need to keep it clean. On this week’s “I’d Like to Know” segment, we’ll chat with planetary scientist from the University of Central Florida about keeping our dirty Earth-germs off other planets and moons — and why the search for life depends on it.
Nov 26 2019
Rank #4: Moon Shots & Mars Rovers: What You Missed At IAC 2019
The International Astronautical Congress was last week in Washington D.C. It’s a global assembly of movers and shakers in the space industry — from government agencies to private partners. We’ll chat with the host of the We Martians podcast Jake Robins who attended the conference about the big news in space exploration.
Then, NASA has its sights set on the moon — the south pole of the moon specifically — because of the evidence of water. But just how much water is there? And how do we know? We’ll ask our panel of expert scientists.
Oct 29 2019
Rank #5: The Interstellar Travels Of The Twin Voyager Spacecraft
Ken Chang: Science From Beyond Our Solar System.
Voyager 2 punched a hole through our heliosphere sending it into interstellar space.
The space probe launched more than 40 years ago along with its twin, Voyager 1, on a mission to visit the outer planets. Now the two have exited the boundary of our solar system and are beaming data back to scientists here on Earth.
We’ll speak to The New York Times reporter Ken Chang who wrote about the science coming back from Voyager 2, which was launched 42 years ago from Cape Canaveral on a mission to visit the outer planets of our solar system.
The spacecraft, along with its twin Voyager 1, is now traveling in interstellar space at more than 35,000 mph.
At that speed, it could travel around the world in less than an hour but, even so, it has taken four decades to leave the solar system all while continuing to transmit data back to Earth.
Scientists are just now digging into that data and it’s painting a new picture of the boundary of our solar system.
I’d Like to Know: The Science of Space Junk.
SpaceX’s Starlink constellation is taking shape. The private company launched 60 satellites into orbit last week that will be part of a network of thousands of satellites to blanket the globe with global, high-speed internet.
However, some people are concerned that the constellation, along with other planned space-based internet networks, could add to the growing number of space debris and interfere with astronomical observations.
Josh Colwell, Jim Cooney and Addie Dove, planetary scientists at the University of Central Florida and hosts of the podcast “Walk About the Galaxy” talk about the science of these constellations and the risks so many satellites zooming around in space might pose.
Got a question for “I’d Like to Know”? Send it in! Shoot us an email at email@example.com.
Space News Headlines
A report released by NASA’s Inspector General says the agency’s commercial crew program is facing additional delays and questions some $157 million awarded to one of those contractors: Boeing.
According to the report, in 2016 Boeing was paid a so-called premium of $287 million to alleviate perceived delays to the program, but SpaceX wasn’t offered a similar opportunity.
The Inspector General criticized Commercial Crew managers for offering the additional money for Starliner missions, calling $157 million of that payment “unnecessary costs.”
In a statement, NASA disagrees with the inspector’s characterization. Boeing says the bidding process was quote fair and open and disagrees with the OIG’s findings.
The report outlines delays in developing the parachutes, propulsion and launch abort systems of the spacecraft. Because of those challenges, the space agency won’t send Commercial Crew astronauts to the station until at least Summer 2020.
Both companies are coming up on critical tests of their capsules that will help solidify human launch dates. Boeing is set to launch an uncrewed capsule to the station next month. And in just a few weeks, SpaceX will test the abort motors of the Crew Dragon Capsule mid flight after launching atop a Falcon 9 rocket.
The latest spacewalks center around a cosmic ray detector on the International Space Station’s exterior that needs repair.
The $2 billion instrument is searching for antimatter and dark matter. It was designed to operate only for three years, but upgrading the instrument’s cooling system can keep it running an additional 10 years.
Another spacewalk is scheduled for this week to attach plumbing to the new cooling system.
The Space Shuttle Endeavour delivered the instrument to the space station on the next-to-last shuttle flight back in 2011.
Next week, we’ll speak with Daniel Oberhaus, journalist and author of Extraterrestrial Languages on the efforts to make first contact with alien civilizations. Oberhaus recounts early efforts to speak to intelligent life in the universe and the debate among scientist about what we should say — or if we should even say anything at all.
Elizabeth Gondar is a WMFE intern and provided production assistance for this ‘Are We There Yet?’ episode.
Nov 20 2019
Rank #6: Interstellar Comet Visits Our Solar System, Awes Astronomers
Astronomers have their eyes on a rare comet zooming 100,000 miles per hour through our solar system. It’s rare because it’s coming from outside our solar system. The comet named 2I/Borisov is the first confirmed interstellar comet.
The Hubble space telescope captured stunning images of the comet. Scientists are pouring through the data to figure out what it’s made of and where it came from. That information can help us better understand our universe. We’ll talk with planetary astronomer Heidi Hammel about what we know — and don’t yet know — about this incredible discovery.
Then, there’s a lot of talk about life on Mars, but how do we actually find it? This week on “I’d Like to Know,” we’ll chat with our panel of planetary scientists about the likelihood of finding signs of life on the red planet and where else in the solar system we should be looking.
Dec 17 2019
Rank #7: A Decade of Commercial Space Innovation
Over the last decade, there’s been a change in how things get to space. Since the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011, NASA has been looking to commercial companies to fill the void. We’ll take a look at the “paradigm shift in the business of space” with The Verge’s senior science reporter Loren Grush. Her recent piece for the online publication examines the commercial boom in the 2010s led largely by Elon Musk’s company SpaceX. We’ll talk about that growth and what’s ahead for private space in the 2020s.
Then, are we alone in the universe? Surely we’re not and statistics can prove it. But why haven’t we uncovered any evidence of life outside our planet? A conversation about the Fermi paradox with our panel of planetary science experts on this week’s segment “I’d Like to Know”.
Dec 31 2019
Rank #8: From Cave To Cosmos: A History Of Human Exploration
Exploration is hardwired into our DNA. From early humans in sub-Saharan Africa to the Apollo moon walkers, humans have always had a thirst for knowledge and the need to understand the world around them.
Andrew Rader is a SpaceX mission manager. He’s one of the many new-age explorers now reaching out to the stars. He’s also an historian and author of a new book Beyond the Known: How Exploration Created the Modern World and Will Take Us to the Stars. We’ll speak with Rader about humanity’s storied history exploring our world and the efforts to expand into our solar system.
Then, are we living in the only version of this universe? We explore the idea of a multiverse with our panel of expert scientists this week on our segment “I’d Like to Know.”
Dec 03 2019
Rank #9: Life On The HI-SEAS
Before we send humans to Mars, it’s probably a smart idea to do a few test runs first, right? That’s what analogs are for. They’re a great way to test the human aspect of space exploration.
HI-SEAS is one of those analogs. The ‘Hawai’i Space Exploration Analog and Simulation’ is a habitat on an isolated Mars-like site on the Big Island of Hawaii.
The habitat is about 1,200 square feet and has a small sleeping quarters for a crew of six, as well as a kitchen, laboratory, simulated airlock and of course a bathroom.
The location also has a geology similar to Mars, so a crew can perform similar ‘outside’ tasks as if they were on Mars. They have to suit up in an air lock and use space suits to step outside.
Each mission in HI-SEAS looks to test the human factors of a Mars mission. The last mission, HI-SEAS V, was an 8 month stay for 6 test subjects.
One of those test subjects was Brian Ramos. He’s a Portuguese-American pursuing a life of exploration. He grew up in Rhode Island and holds dual engineering degrees in biomedical and electrical engineering.
Dec 15 2017
Rank #10: Designing The Next Spacesuit
For future missions to the moon or Mars, astronauts are going to need a new suit. Engineers like MIT’s Dava Newman are hard at work — but it’s a big ask. Designing a suit that protects astronauts while still allowing them the mobility to work in space or on another planet is tough. We’ll speak with Newman about the design challenges of making a new spacesuit and how the work done at her lab could help all of us here on Earth.
Then, we know the speed of light, the speed of sound — but what about the speed of gravity? This week on “I’d Like to Know” we chat with our panel of experts on the intricate measurement of gravity and how colliding black holes are helping us understand its speed.
Dec 10 2019
Rank #11: Hunting For Exoplanets
You’ve probably heard about exoplanets, right? They’re planets that live outside of our solar system. The Kepler spacecraft has identified thousands of these things, and some of those planets it discovered are similar to Earth and reside in a zone around their host starts known as the Goldilocks zone — which means they could contain liquid water.
Kepler is about to get some help hunting for exoplanets in April. The Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, we’ll call it TESS, launches into orbit from the Kennedy Space Center, and it hopes to find not just thousands, but tens of thousands more exoplanets.
We speak with TESS principle investigator George Ricker and Orbital ATK’s Robert Lockwood about the mission.
Feb 23 2018
Rank #12: BONUS INTERVIEW: The History Of Civilian Space
This week we’re talking with Alan Ladwig about his new book “See You in Orbit.” It chronicles the efforts to get regular humans, not just astronauts, into space. You probably heard us talk about those efforts after the Challenger disaster and into the era of commercial space tourism — but the story of civilians in space starts long before that.
In this bonus interview for Are We There Yet?, Ladwig takes us back to the start…
Feb 19 2020
Rank #13: Astronaut & Spacewalker Nicole Stott Talks Gender Equality, Art In Space and Efforts To Inspire The Next Generation Of Explorers
Nicole Stott: Spacewalker, artists and advocate for all explorers.
Last month, Astronauts Jessica Meir and Christina Koch made history by conducting the first all-female spacewalk. While women have been space walking since 1984, this marks the first time a team has been made up of an all female crew.
Koch and Meir penned a Washington Post op-ed from space applauding NASA’s efforts for equality and calling on leaders to continue to include all humans as exploration efforts move forward.
Astronaut Nicole Stott preps for a spacewalk. Photo: NASA
There have been 221 spacewalks at the ISS and 37 have included women. But overall, there have only been 15 female spacewalkers. Retired NASA astronaut Nicole Stott is one of them and we chat with her about the historic milestone and what that means for gender equality in the astronaut corps.
Stott is also an artist, one of the first to paint from space. We’ll talk about her efforts to inspire the next generation of space explorers through art and outreach.
I’d Like to Know: An interstellar comet is about to visit us.
An interstellar comet is zooming through space and it’s about to make a pass through our solar system. It is only the second identified space rock to visit us from interstellar space — so what can we expect? And why are scientists so excited about it?
Josh Colwell and Addie Dove — planetary scientists at the University of Central Florida and hosts of the podcast “Walk About the Galaxy” — help answer Brendan’s simple question: What the heck is this thing? \
Got a question for “I’d Like to Know”? Send it in! Shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Space News Headlines
Commercial Crew Tests Ramp Up
Boeing completed a critical test of its Starliner capsule designed to take NASA astronauts to the International Space Station. It’s part of a partnership between NASA and private companies to launch astronauts to the International Space Station from Florida — a first since the end of the space shuttle program in 2011 — and paves the way for an uncrewed test flight to the ISS December 17.
SpaceX is also planning for a critical safety test of it’s abort system later this year. SpaceX has already completed an uncrewed test mission to the ISS earlier this year and NASA said the company could send the first human astronauts early next year.
Starlink Ends Three Month Launch Draught
SpaceX launched 60 of its Starlink satellites from Cape Canaveral Monday on a Falcon 9 rocket. The company wants to blanket the globe with high-speed, broadband internet access. It’s the first round of thousands of satellites needed to complete the constellation.
SpaceX isn’t alone. Another company One Web plans to start launching 30 satellites a month starting next year — and that has some worried about orbiting traffic and the potential for collisions.
SpaceX said the network can operate safely. Each satellite is equipped with systems to steer it away from potential crashes. And if a satellite dies, it will fall out of orbit and burn up safely in the atmosphere.
Whether or not other companies will play nice and how satellite regulation might change is yet to be seen.
Next week, we’ll explore NASA’s Voyager 2 mission. The probe launch 42 years ago. Last year, the spacecraft punched through the boundry of the solar system into interstellar space. Scientists are now publishing findings from the mission’s voyage into interstellar space. We’ll speak with New York Times science reporter Kenneth Chang about how the mission is changing our understanding of the solar system.
Nov 12 2019
Rank #14: Tracking Rockets
I’m sure you’ve watch rocket launches on TV or streaming, right? You know those tight shots that follow the rocket into space and in SpaceX’s case the ones that follow them back down to earth? Well, someone like Rick Wetherington is responsible for those images.
He’s a photo planner for Abacus Technology a contractor at Kennedy Space Center. He tracks rockets as they take off using this huge camera rigs. He tracks them by hand, usually just a mile away from the launch or landing pads.
He tracked the Falcon Heavy launch, but I met with him a few weeks before that assignment. We spoke at the Kennedy Space Center’s Press Site ahead of that launch about what goes in to tracking rockets and why his film is so important to engineers.
One of Rick’s most memorable assignments was when a Delta II rocket exploded shortly after liftoff. This is what it looked like. Watch for the shots following the burning debris as it falls to the Earth. That was shot by someone just like Rick.
Feb 09 2018
Rank #15: Space: Marketing’s Final Frontier
Space is open for business. NASA is loosening restrictions on the use of the space station for commercial companies, paving the way for new business opportunities in orbit. From music videos to commercials, companies are now looking to the cosmos to tell their stories. So what will the future of space marketing look like? And what does NASA stand to gain? We’ll talk with Space Marketing Group’s Trisha Navidzadeh about the bold new future of space marketing.
Then, a listener asks: How far away are we from having rotating ships that create artificial gravity? We’ll put that question to our expert panel of scientists on this week’s edition of “I’d Like to Know”.
Feb 25 2020
Rank #16: Discovering A New Star: Jocelyn Bell Burnell’s Advice For Astronomers And Women In Science
Back in 1967, Dr. Jocelyn Bell Burnell observed a curious set of radio pulses from a new type of telescope. Her findings would lead to a new type of star — a pulsar — and begin a new chapter of astronomical discovery. The findings were groundbreaking and paved the way for a new type of observation — radio astronomy.
We’ll chat with Burnell about the story of that discovery, where she sees the future of radio astronomy heading and her work to get more women and minorities involved in STEM.
Then, Space is huge, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to keep it clean. As we continue to venture into our solar system with robotic explorers and human missions, there’s a greater need for good hygiene. On this week’s “I’d Like to Know” segment, we’ll chat with physicists from the University of Central Florida about keeping our dirty Earth-germs off other planets and moons — and why the search for life depends on it.
Mar 10 2020
Rank #17: Scott Kelly’s Year In Space
If we’re going to go to Mars, we’re going to have to figure out how to live in space for a really long time.
NASA ran an experiment on astronauts and twins Scott and Mark Kelly. They sent Scott up in space for nearly a year, and kept Mark on earth to see how bodies change in microgravity.
What they found was Scott suffered from bone loss and new allergies to things like his own bed sheets. Back on earth, Scott Kelly spoke about some of the strange ways his body changed while up in space .and what’s ahead for figuring out long-duration space flight.
Nov 02 2017
Rank #18: Solar Orbiter Mission Heads To The Sun To Study Poles Of Our Closest Star
A new mission to study the sun launched this week from Cape Canaveral. For the first time, scientists will get a look at the poles of the sun, thanks to the Solar Orbiter spacecraft. The mission is a joint venture between the European Space Agency and NASA and will join other spacecraft studying the sun like the Parker Solar Probe.
So how will Solar Orbiter help better our understanding of the sun and its effects here on Earth? We’ll speak with NASA scientist Alex Young about the new era of heliophysics.
Then, a listener wants to know a little more about Tabby’s Star — it’s a star located in the constellation Cygnus. A space telescope captured some funky behavior of the star — so what’s up? We’ll ask our panel of expert scientists this week on our segment “I’d Like to Know”.
Feb 11 2020
Rank #19: The Future Of Ordinary People In Space
Companies like Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic are on the brink of launching a new class of astronauts into space — ordinary people. The experiences promise to give space tourists a new perspective on the world and experience the feeling of weightlessness. How will space tourism change the way we think about space and our planet?
We’ll chat with Alan Ladwig — former NASA official and author of the new book “See You in Orbit” about the history of civilians in space and the prospect of ordinary citizens leaving this planet.
Then, NASA has its sights set on the moon — the south pole of the moon, specifically — because of the evidence of water. But just how much water is there at the poles of the moon? And how do we know? We’ll ask our panel of expert scientists this week.
Feb 18 2020
Rank #20: Booze In Space? The Storied History And Bright Future Of Alcohol In The Final Frontier
Alcohol has long been a staple of our cultures and civilizations but is there a place for it in space?
Author Chris Carberry explores this history and future of booze in space in his new book Alcohol in Space: Past, Present and Future. We’ll talk about how booze made its mark on the space program and just what type of drinks we might be toasting while orbiting the Earth or exploring Mars.
Then, there’s a black hole at the center of our galaxy. Should we be worried about falling in? This week on our segment “I’d Like to Know”, we’ll chat with planetary scientists about the possibility of being gobbled up by this black hole.
Jan 07 2020