Monthly Archives: October 2016

The first nation in space?

A science research center has announced it is forming an independent nation in space which anyone can join.

If you are 18 or over and have an email address, you can apply to become a ‘citizen’ of Asgardia today. At the time of this writing, more than 4,900 people have signed up, including at least one Popular Science editor. “When the number of those applications goes above 100,000 we can officially apply to the UN for the status of state,” said Ashurbeyli, adding that Asgardians would not have to give up citizenship in their countries of origin.

The group hopes to launch its first satellite in 2017 or 2018. How it will avoid being under the jurisdiction of any other country remains to me a mystery.

Eventually, when there are thriving reasonably self-sufficient colonies in space, circumstances will demand that they declare their independence from what is becoming an increasingly oppressive Earth culture. Until then, declarations like Asgardia are nothing more than publicity stunts that are not going to go anywhere.

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TMT considers alternative sites to Hawaii

Faced with a continuing legal battle to build the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), the consortium running is now seriously considering alternative sites.

Potential Northern Hemisphere sites include San Pedro Mártir in Baja California in Mexico and Roque de los Muchachos on La Palma, a Spanish island off the Atlantic coast of Morocco. “Our friends in La Palma are pushing hard” to get the TMT, says Matt Mountain, president of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy in Washington, D.C. But neither alternative matches the seeing conditions on Mauna Kea, and they would bring extra cost and complication. The project has already ruled out sites in the Himalayas, put forward by India and China—both TMT partners along with the United States, Japan, and Canada—because they are too far from ports and have short construction seasons.

The TMT governors are expected to choose their top alternative site later this month. Regardless of what happens in Hawaii, the governors have vowed to start construction—on Mauna Kea or elsewhere—no later than April 2018.

It is clear that Mauna Kea in Hawaii is the best location. Unfortunately, they are faced with the reality that there might be years of delays before they ever get permission to build, if they get permission at all.

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Russia gets two contracts for Proton

The competition heats up: Russia has signed two new contracts using its newly announced Proton-Medium rocket configuration.

Both contracts are for the same launch. The primary payload will be a Intelsat communications satellite. The secondary payload will be Orbital ATK’s first Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV-1), which is actually more significant and somewhat ground-breaking.

The MEV-1 provides life-extending services by taking over the propulsion and attitude control functions. Satellites have an average of 15 years of life on orbit, before they need to be replaced. The vehicle itself has a 15-year design life with the ability to perform numerous dockings and undockings during its life span. “Rather than launching new satellites, operators can extend the life of healthy in-orbit satellites, providing enhanced flexibility through Orbital ATK’s scalable and cost-efficient capabilities,” noted Our simple approach minimizes risk, enhances mission assurance, and enables our customers to realize the maximum value of their in-orbit satellite assets.”

The launch of MEV-1 will involve in-orbit testing and a demonstration to be performed with an Intelsat satellite. MEV-1 will then relocate to the Intelsat satellite scheduled for the mission extension service, which is planned for a five-year period. Intelsat will also have the option to service multiple satellites using the same MEV.

If MEV-1 proves successful, Orbital ATK will have built, launched, and made money from the first robot repair satellite. While at first glance this success suggests that satellite companies will need to launch fewer satellites, thus reducing the market demand for rockets, what it will really do is make the orbiting satellite more useful and profitable, thus encouraging new players to enter the market. The demand for satellites will increase, thus increasing the demand for rockets.

Ain’t freedom and private enterprise grand?

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Boeing pushes back first Starliner flights

Boeing has delayed the first test flight of its Starliner manned capsule from the end of 2017 until June 2018.

Boeing says that production delays and problems with qualification tests are partly to blame for the timeline slip. The company also found a production flaw in September that forced them to get rid of a main element on one of their spacecrafts — a dome that made up the pressure shell of the crew module. All of these complications combined prompted Boeing to push back the development timeline of Starliner by about six months.

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A*Teens – Halfway Around The World

An evening pause: Watching this only confirms for me a well known fact: Young people sure have more energy than they know what to do with. In this case, it is used well.

Hat tip Jim Mallamace, who adds that this “Swedish group originally formed as an ABBA tribute band (originally, they called themselves “ABBA Teens”). As they became older, they branched out into their own music selections that had nothing to do with ABBA.”

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NASA to offer port on ISS for private modules

The competition heats up: NASA to offer port on ISS for private modules.

Several companies have previously expressed an interest in adding a module to the ISS for commercial or NASA use. In April, Bigelow Aerospace said it had made an unsolicited proposal to NASA to add one of its B330 modules under development to the ISS. In August, the company received an award from NASA’s Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) to study that concept in more detail.

Axiom Space, a company led by former NASA station program manager Mike Suffredini, announced in June plans to develop a commercial module that could be added to the station as a precursor to a standalone commercial space station. Suffredini said in July that his company planned to respond to the NASA RFI.

Another venture that received a NASA NextSTEP award in August was a consortium called Ixion, which includes NanoRacks, Space Systems Loral and United Launch Alliance. Ixion will study converting a Centaur upper stage into a commercial ISS module.

This confirms my belief that ISS will not be retired in 2024, but will slowly transition to private hands and will be steadily replaced by new private modules as old ones wear out.

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A large Kuiper Belt object discovered

Astronomers have detected a new but very distant Kuiper Belt object.

For now, his team knows little more about their distant discovery other than its orbit and apparent brightness. Given its distance, however, the object should be sizable — anywhere from 400 km across (if its surface is bright and 50% reflective) to 1,200 km (if very dark and 5% reflective). If its true size edges toward the larger end of this range, then 2014 UZ224 would likely qualify for dwarf-planet status.

Fortunately, we should have a much better estimate of the object’s size very soon. Gerdes has used the ALMA radio-telescope array to measure the heat radiating from 2014 UZ224, which can be combined with the optical measurements to yield its size and albedo.

The object has a very eccentric 1,140 year orbit, coming as close to the sun as Pluto at its closest and almost five times farther away at its furthest.

Note: I have changed the article title because this new object is almost certainly not bigger the Pluto, as one of my readers pointed out.

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Obama makes another empty space commitment

In an op-ed today, President Barack Obama made another one of those Presidential Kennedy-like space commitments, this time proposing that the U.S. send humans to Mars.

We have set a clear goal vital to the next chapter of America’s story in space: sending humans to Mars by the 2030s and returning them safely to Earth, with the ultimate ambition to one day remain there for an extended time. Getting to Mars will require continued cooperation between government and private innovators, and we’re already well on our way. Within the next two years, private companies will for the first time send astronauts to the International Space Station.

Obama in his op-ed spends a lot of time claiming credit for the recent resurgence in the American space industry. Though his administration does deserve some of the credit, in that they continued and expanded the commercial space initiative first started in the Bush administration, the bulk of the credit here really must be given to the private companies that did the actual work. SpaceX and Orbital ATK took enormous financial risks to make their rockets and capsules fly. They made it happen, proving at last to a generation that had lost faith in private enterprise and freedom that relying on private enterprise and freedom really is the best way to do things.

Meanwhile, I would not take Obama’s proposal very seriously. We will have a new president in just a matter of a few months, and that president will make his or her own decisions. Moreover, it really won’t matter that much what that next president proposes anyway. The real story will be with private individuals and private companies, forging their own dreams as they search for ways to get into space in a profitable manner.

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More madness from our intellectual betters

Below is another collection of links I have been gathering since last week, illustrating the intellectual bankruptcy that presently dominates American society and the so-called elite culture that is supposed to lead us.

I wish I could say that these stories are the exceptions that prove freedom and the demand from western civilization that we always seek the truth is still thriving in America, but if I did I’d be lying. These stories reflect the close-minded and oppressive attitude that is permeating our intellectual climate and is acting to squelch freedom and the ability of people to express alternative points of view.

The first three stories illustrate the hate of western civilization that dominates modern intellectual culture. The last three stories illustrate its close-mindedness. For example, consider the James Madison University speech guide:

Student leaders of this year’s freshman orientation at James Madison University were given a list of 35 things they should avoid saying, including phrases such as “you have such a pretty face,” “love the sinner, hate the sin,” “we’re all part of the human race,” “I treat all people the same,” “it was only a joke,” “I never owned slaves,” and “people just need to pick themselves up by their bootstraps,” among other expressions.

Meanwhile, a police chief (who happens to be black) is banned from speaking about the use of forensics in police work because he has had the nerve to publicly criticize the racist Black Lives Movement. We can’t have that!

The worst aspect of these stories is the lack of resistance to these totalitarian measures. If I was attending James Madison University, my response to that speech guide would be to start wearing t-shirts with those banned phrases blazoned across the front, while chalking those phrases everywhere on sidewalks. I do not get the sense that today’s students have the same courage. In fact, the story on trigger warnings suggests that today’s students are wholly in favor of this oppression, and get upset if anyone dares express a dissenting view to them.

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Cosmic rays a threat to Mars travel

The uncertainty of science: New research using rats has found that cosmic rays might damage human brains during a long mission to and from Mars.

Radiation oncologist Charles Limoli and his colleagues at the University of California Irvine bombarded mice and rats with low-doses of ionized oxygen or titanium. These charged particles have similar energies to those of cosmic rays that can pass right through the shielding on spacecraft. The dosage levels that the researchers used were similar to what astronauts would be exposed to during a three-year round-trip mission to Mars, Limoli says.

The researchers looked at the prefrontal cortex, the brain region linked to decision-making, executive function, and long-term memory. They saw significant damage and inflammation in the brains of exposed animals as long as six months after the exposure. The radiation damaged the tiny branches on neurons that help transmit electric signals to the nerve cell body. This led to a loss in learning and memory. The exposed animals performed poorly on behavioral tests that measure intelligence, and they showed higher, constant anxiety levels.

Though the uncertainties here are enormous, the research here has essentially discovered the obvious. The radiation experienced during a long interplanetary voyage is unhealthy, and any interplanetary vessel for carrying humans on such a voyage must be designed with sufficient shielding to protect its passengers. That this research has proven that cosmic rays are a threat also means that providing a ship with a safe room where passengers can take refuge during solar storms is not sufficient. Cosmic rays are random and come at all times in an unpredictable manner. The research suggests that the shielding will have to protect the ship’s entire living quarters.

The payload weight requirements for any rocket that will launch the first interplanetary ships just went up significantly. This means that space stations we have been building (Mir, ISS, and Tiangong) are not even close to sufficient for interplanetary travel, and need significant redesign to make them work. This also means that human interplanetary travel will require cost-efficient heavy lift rockets such as the Falcon Heavy.

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Vandenberg launches will not resume until late October at the earliest

Because of continuing repairs following the extensive wildfires at Vandenberg, ULA’s commercial launch using its Atlas 5 rocket will not take place until late October or early November, at the earliest.

It appears once again that the repairs involve damage to the infrastructure at Vandenberg, not the launchpads or rockets.

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The arrogance of today’s government class

A new survey of Washington staffers and bureaucrats has found that they not only have an incredible contempt for the public they are supposed to serve, but their general knowledge of that public is mostly wrong.

Presented with simple multiple-choice quizzes, the bureaucrats failed badly. For instance, 65 percent of the DC insiders guessed that median household income is lower than it is in reality (about $52,000 a year). Almost four out of five respondents underestimated the percent of the population that is white (which is 78 percent of Americans). Sixty-four percent of those surveyed underestimated the cohort of Americans (age 25 and up) who have a high school diploma: It’s 85 percent. And 80 percent of respondents guessed that the rate of homeownership is lower than it is: 67 percent.

…Officialdom overestimates, by an average of 8 percentage points, the proportion of Americans who support increasing government spending in the areas of education, crime prevention, welfare and child care. This is blob bias: the mistaken belief that Americans want to direct more and more of our income to the blob so it can (fail to) solve more of our problems.

…Asked to estimate how much knowledge Americans have about various issues, the bureaucrats gave answers that were frankly contemptuous. According to government officials, 72 percent of Americans know “very little” or nothing about government aid to the poor. Eleven percent of officials think Americans know nothing — absolutely nothing — about science and technology policy, and another 60 percent think we know very little. Sixty-three percent of officials think we know little or nothing about environmental policy. According to the bureaucracy, 6 percent or less of Americans know “a great deal” about any of the nine issues sampled.

Read it all. The survey reveals a governmental class that is ignorant of the nation it rules, and contemptuous of that nation based solely upon that ignorance. It also confirms my impressions when I visited Washington in June for a policy conference.

I fear that the culture of Washington is becoming increasingly hostile to and insulated against the choices of the American electorate. I fear that they will one day soon decide to team up with the politicians they like to use the concentrated power we have given them in Washington to reject those choices, even to the extent of tossing out the Constitution and the democratic legal system that made the United States once the freest and wealthest nation in the history of the human race.

I hope I am wrong. I pray that I am wrong. I think we might very well find out in the coming year.

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The war with Islam explained

Link here. The author, very obviously well educated in both the Islamic religion as well as recent Islamic history, describes the real religious meaning of phrases like “Allahu Akbar” and “la ilaha illa Allah” and in the process outlines quite clearly the power-hungry goals of Islam, based on the religion itself.

This is also why “Allahu Akbar” and “la ilaha illa Allah” – both statements of faith that embody the religious concept of the supremacy of Islam and of Allah – are mistranslated. First it was the struggle to establish the supremacy of the monotheistic Islam over the pagan idols of seventh-century Mecca. Then it was a struggle for supremacy over other religions, including monotheistic ones, in the Arabian Peninsula, resulting in the expulsion of non-Muslims, as related in the compilation of hadiths on behalf of the Prophet Muhammad: “I shall take out the Jews and the Christians from the Peninsula”[5] – a ban that is in force to this day against non-Muslim religious institutions. Later it was a struggle against other religious empires, such as the Persian and the Byzantine. However, the rendering of “Allahu Akbar” in the U.S. media as “God is great” omits the aspect of superiority in the word Akbar (which but means “greater” or “greatest,” not merely “great”) and blurs the specific reference to Allah rather than to another deity. In the same vein, “la illaha illa Allah” is often translated in the U.S. media as “There is no god but God” (rather than “There is no god but Allah”). Omitting the supremacy of Allah over all other deities is a mistranslation, and moreover leads to a logical fallacy – reminiscent of Carrollian nonsense verses.

One of the reasons for such mistranslations is the fact that in the modern Western world the struggle for supremacy among religions has almost completely ceased, and to the extent that it still exists, it is nonviolent. Therefore, statements of religious faith that embody a continuing historical struggle for divine religious supremacy lack a modern religious/cultural conceptual basis through which to be understood in the West, and consequently lack a linguistic equivalent. The American media, facing the risk of not being understood in translating these Islamic concepts, prefer to provide an approximate translation, even though these are inherently misleading.

This is not to say that “Allahu Akbar” is uttered only by jihadis continuing the age-old struggle for the supremacy of Islam and of Allah. Over the centuries it has come to be uttered by non-religious Muslims as well, and even by Christian Arabs. In many cases, it carries a variety of meanings – ranging from admiration for what is perceived as a wonderful act of Allah to an expression of shock and horror in the face of calamity.

A translation should always reflect the context, the speaker, and his intent. But what often happens in the U.S. media is that when “Allahu Akbar” is said by a jihadi, it is translated as if said by a non-religious Muslim or a Christian Arab. This is utterly wrong. And when such mistranslations occur time and again, whether intentional or out of ignorance, it results in a profoundly apologetic misrepresentation of the concept, and its cultural and religious meaning.

Note the history as described. Even if there are millions of Muslims who do not wish to conquer, oppress, and eliminate other religions, the fundamentals of Islam end up causing it to do these exact things, eventually. And these fundamentals are once again today driving the religion’s power elites. Woe to us here in the west if we do not heed this reality.

I strongly suggest my readers read the entire essay at the link. He documents his points in great detail, and quite thoughtfully.

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Green Bank goes private

The competition heats up: The Green Bank radio telescope in West Virginia, having lost most of its government funding, has switched to a private model where they compete for customers on the open market.

[T]hey petitioned to retain a fraction of NSF funding and make up the difference with private contracts—a model then unheard of. Eventually, the NSF agreed to fund about 60 percent of Green Bank’s operations in 2017, tapering to 30 percent in 2018.

To add cash flow to that federal tributary, Green Bankers had to nail down private contracts. The 140-foot telescope, home to the biggest ball bearing in the world, will download data from the Russian Space Agency’s on-orbit radio telescope, RadioAstron, which will also hook up with the newer telescope to form a high-resolution array. The North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves has commissioned the flagship Green Bank Telescope to watch their network of pulsars for fingerprints of gravitational waves.

And Breakthrough Listen—a search for extraterrestrial intelligence—will look for the technological fingerprints of aliens. The project, funded by rich-guy Yuri Milner, will watch the sky 1,300 hours a year, debiting $2 million from Milner annually and depositing it into Green Bank’s coffers.

In other words, they are marketing the telescope to the open market, selling time to use it to whoever has a need. And apparently, there is a need, though I suspect operations at the telescope will have to become leaner and meaner and more efficient to stay in the black. Which is to the good.

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Opportunity to head into Endeavour Crater

The Opportunity science team has decided to next take the rover into the floor of Endeavour Crater.

The gully chosen as the next major destination slices west-to-east through the rim about half a mile (less than a kilometer) south of the rover’s current location. It is about as long as two football fields. “We are confident this is a fluid-carved gully, and that water was involved,” said Opportunity Principal Investigator Steve Squyres of Cornell University, Ithaca, New York. “Fluid-carved gullies on Mars have been seen from orbit since the 1970s, but none had been examined up close on the surface before. One of the three main objectives of our new mission extension is to investigate this gully. We hope to learn whether the fluid was a debris flow, with lots of rubble lubricated by water, or a flow with mostly water and less other material.”

The team intends to drive Opportunity down the full length of the gully, onto the crater floor. The second goal of the extended mission is to compare rocks inside Endeavour Crater to the dominant type of rock Opportunity examined on the plains it explored before reaching Endeavour.

If it is the gully I think, it is the slope visible in the panorama I created for this rover update two weeks ago. The science team has named the mound they have been studying Spirit Mound. The ridge line, visible in the panorama and to the south of the rover in the overhead view provided in the same September 27 rover update, has been dubbed Wharton Ridge. It is also possible that the entrance gully is the gully to the south of Wharton Ridge. Based on the information NASA has provided, I am not sure.

Either way, I had guessed that they would work their way south to Wharton Ridge along the edge of the crater rim, and then retreat away from the crater floor to do more study of the interior crater rim. It appears they have decided that the rover can safely descend the slope to enter the crater floor itself, and they aren’t going to wait any longer to do it.

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China considers moves against North Korea

It took them long enough. Faced with news that North Korea is preparing for a sixth nuclear test, China policy makers are now considering various options for removing North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un.

According to the Korea Times, Professor Zhe Sun told a security forum in Washington that the Chinese were debating how best to deal with the North Korean leader. ‘Some Chinese scholars and policy makers began to talk about supporting “surgical strikes” and “decapitation” by the U.S. and South Korea as one policy option,’ he said.
Satellite images of North Korea’s nuclear test site shows activity at all three of its tunnel complexes, fuelling speculation of another test ahead of a key political anniversary next week
Professor Zhe Sun told a security forum in Washington that the Chinese were debating how best to deal with the North Korean leader ‘More radical proposals indicate that China should change the leader, send troops across borders and station in DPRK, force DPRK into giving up nuclear and beginning opening up and reforming.’

North Korea has never been able to do anything without the support of China. That China has allowed them to get this far in their nuclear weapon and missile development has been an enormous mistake. That they might now be finally realizing this means that we could see some drama there very shortly.

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Launches at Vandenberg remain suspended due to wildfire damage

It appears that though they had reported that the wildfires at Vandenberg Air Force Base had left the launch facilities undamaged, launches remain suspended due to necessary repairs.

Vandenberg officials have been tight-lipped about damage beyond confirming downed power lines in the area, despite unconfirmed reports in the local communities about a tracking station, weather sensor or other critical support equipment being ruined in the fire. Other unconfirmed reports mention damage to communication equipment.

ULA officials last said the launch would not occur before early October, but never released the targeted launch date as the Air Force began surveying damage and crafting a recovery plan. The Air Force remains mum about what was damaged or affected by the fires.

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Hawaii Supreme Court approves solar telescope construction

Even as the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on Mauna Kea remains in legal limbo, the Hawaii Supreme Court today ruled that the permits for the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope on Haleakala were correct and that construction can go forward.

Not surprisingly, the protesters who have lost this case immediately indicated that they will fight it with continued protests, not unlike a 3-year-old who doesn’t get his way and starts to scream and yell and pound the floor.

Meanwhile, the TMT court case is supposed to resume later this month.

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SpaceX offers 10% discount for satellites launched on reused 1st stages

In interview today for Space News, SpaceX’s president Gwynne Shotwell revealed that the company is only offering a 10% launch discount for any satellite launch that uses a reused Falcon 9 first stage, not the 30% price break she had indicated in March.

Though the interview also touched upon SpaceX’s September 1 launchpad investigation, it did not include anything significantly new. Shotwell readily admitted that the company did consider sabotage as a possible cause, but always considered it unlikely and right now has pretty much dismissed it. She also remains confident that the company will resume launches this year.

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Stratolaunch to use Orbital ATK’s Pegasus rocket

The competition heats up? Vulcan Aerospace and Orbital ATK announced today that they are renewing their partnership, using Pegasus in conjunction with Stratolaunch to put satellites into orbit.

Under a multiyear “production-based partnership,” the companies said, Orbital ATK will provide “multiple” Pegasus XL air-launch rockets to be used with the Stratolaunch aircraft, which, when completed, will have the largest wingspan of any plane ever built.

With the Pegasus XL rockets, the Stratolaunch aircraft will be able to launch small satellites weighing up to 1,000 pounds, according to the firms’ joint statement released Thursday. Pegasus rockets already have done this kind of work: Orbital ATK has used them to launch satellites from the belly of its Stargazer aircraft.

This deal suggests to me that Vulcan Aerospace has a problem. It couldn’t find anyone to build a large rocket for Stratolaunch and this deal was therefore conjured up to paper over this problem. First , it appears that the reason Orbital ATK originally backed out was that they didn’t want to build the new rocket. Maybe they had engineering concerns. Maybe they were worried about cost or management. Regardless, they didn’t want to build it.

Second, using Stratolaunch with Pegasus seems pointless if the satellite weigh is still limited to only 1,000 pounds. That’s the payload capacity of Pegasus using Orbital ATK’s L-1011 Stargazer airplane. Why bother switching to Stratolaunch if the giant plane doesn’t give you any benefits?

Thus, it appears to me that what has happened is that Vulcan needed some rocket to use with Stratolaunch so that they could squelch the rising doubts about the company. This deal gives them that. It also probably gives Orbital ATK some extra cash to get them to agree to do it.

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Mars rover update: October 6, 2016

Curiosity

Post updated. See last paragraph of Curiosity section.

For the overall context of Curiosity’s travels, see Pinpointing Curiosity’s location in Gale Crater.

Curiosity looking west, Sol 1475

Having moved south from Murray Buttes, the Curiosity science team has decided [see Sol 1473] that they will veer the rover to the southwest a bit, partly to check out some interesting features but also I think as part of a long term plan to find the best route through an area of sand dunes that blocks their path to the more interesting landscape at the base of Mount Sharp. The panorama above, created by me from images taken by the rover’s mast camera on Sol 1475, was taken to scope out this route, and is indicated below the fold in the overview released earlier this week by the rover science team and annotated by me to indicate the direction of this panorama as well as the rover’s present location. (Be sure to click on the panorama above to see it at full resolution.)
» Read more

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