How to discover interesting things on Mars

Overview map

Today’s cool image will do something a little different. We are going to begin in orbit, and by step-by-step zooming in we will hopefully illustrate the great challenge of finding cool geological features on the surface of Mars.

The first image to the right is an overview map of the Valles Marineris region. To its east, centered at the white dot, is a vast region of chaos terrain, endless small buttes and mesas and criss-crossing canyons. Travel in this region will always be difficult, and will likely always required some form of helicopter to get from point to point.

What is hidden in that terrain? Well, to find out you need to take a global survey from orbit with a good enough resolution to reveal some details. Below is a mosaic made from two wide angle context camera pictures taken by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).

Context mosaic of chaos terrain
For full images go here and here.

This mosaic, rotated, cropped, and reduced to post here, only captures a small section of the long north-south strips taken by MRO. The orbiter has taken tens of thousands of these strips, in its effort to produce a global map of Mars that shows some reasonable detail.

Do you see anything in this mosaic that looks interesting? Scientists need to pour over such images, one by one, searching for geology that is both puzzling and revealing. Sometimes the features are obvious, such as a single blobby crater in the flat relatively featureless northern lowlands.

Sometimes however the search can be slow and time-consuming because the terrain is complex, as is the example to the right. The many mesas and canyons can hide many interesting features. Since MRO can’t possibly take high resolution photos of everything, scientists have to pick and choose.

The planetary scientists who use MRO did find something here worth looking at in high resolution. Can you find it? Normally I’d provide a box to indicate it, but this time I’d thought I’d challenge my readers. Before you click below to see the feature, see if you can find it yourself in this mosaic. What would you want to photograph in high resolution?
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Today’s blacklisted American: Blackballed professor at NC State sues

The Bill of Rights cancelled at North Carolina State University
Freedom of speech cancelled at
North Carolina State University.

Fighting back: Stephen Porter, a tenured professor at North Carolina State University, has just filed a lawsuit against the university and several of its faculty for blackballing him for simply disagreeing with them on issues of politics and policy.

The introduction of the legal filing [pdf] outlines clearly the actions of the university’s faculty, designed to destroy Porter’s academic career:

[I]n retaliation for Professor Stephen Porter’s protected expressions of opinion on important societal issues, Defendants have intentionally and systematically excluded him from departmental programs and activities that are necessary for him to fulfill his job requirements, effectively hollowing his job out from the inside. They have done this in a deliberate effort to set the stage for his eventual termination. … Defendants are gradually forcing Plaintiff into what is effectively a “rubber room” in retaliation for his criticisms of the so-called “social-justice” ideology that now prevails both in his department and in academia more broadly.

Read the whole complaint. It describes in ugly detail the efforts by his supervisors to isolate and ostracize him so it would be impossible for him to teach and maintain his job.

So, what exactly did Porter do to bring the wrath of these petty dictators down upon him? » Read more

Landing site chosen for VIPER lunar rover

Overview map

NASA has now chosen the landing site for its VIPER rover, in a relatively flat area about 85 miles from the Moon’s south pole and near the western edge of Nobile Crater (pronounced No-BEEL-e).

The white rectangle on the overview map to the right shows the landing zone. The green cross on the rim of Shackleton Crater marks the South Pole. The red outlines inside craters are regions that are believed to be permanently shadowed, and thus locations that might have water ice within them. Additionally, the data suggests there are a handful of small areas inside craters within the landing zone that might also have ice.

From the press release:

The area VIPER will study in the Nobile region covers an approximate surface area of 36 square miles (93 square kilometers), 10 to 15 miles (16 to 24 km) of which VIPER is expected to traverse through during the course of its mission. During this time, the rover will visit carefully chosen areas of scientific interest that will provide further insight into a wide array of different kinds of lunar environments. The VIPER team will look to characterize ice and other resources in these areas using VIPER’s sensors and drill.

The mission’s planned lifespan is presently set at 100 days. While the Moon’s day/night is 28 days long, the rover will likely see little darkness, since at this very high latitude the Sun will simply circle the sky near the horizon.

SpaceX schedules likely first static fire tests for orbital Starship and Superheavy

Capitalism in space: SpaceX has scheduled a weeklong series of road closures at Boca Chica, beginning next week, suggesting they are about to begin the first static fire tests for the orbital prototypes of both Starship (#20) and Superheavy (#4).

The company has been installing or replacing engines on both prototypes, with the installation apparently now complete on Starship #20.

Starship’s current design features three gimballing sea-level Raptors and three vacuum-optimized variants with much larger nozzles – all in close proximity inside a 9m-wide (30 ft) skirt. As such, the first Starship static fire with any combination of Raptor Center and Raptor Vacuum engines will be a significant milestone for SpaceX. Eventually, that will likely culminate in the first static fire(s) of a Starship (likely S20) with all six Raptors installed – a test that will effectively qualify that prototype for its first orbital launch attempt.

As for Superheavy #4, they have been replacing some of its 29 engines while it sits on the launchpad, for reasons that are not clear.

It appears the company is aiming to get all of its ground-testing completed while the FAA’s approval process for the permit for the orbital flight is ongoing. This will make it possible to launch as soon as approval is obtained.

This strategy carries some risk. As long as the testing proceeds smoothly it will provide positive coverage during the FAA’s public comment period, running until mid-October. Should a test fail dramatically, however, the explosion could generate the wrong response during that comment period. Not surprisingly, SpaceX is willing to accept that risk.

NASA reviewing a dozen commercial proposals for future government space stations

Capitalism in space: Rather than replace the aging International Space Station (ISS) with an entirely government-designed-and-built new station, NASA is now reviewing about a dozen commercial proposals from private companies.

NASA earlier this year unveiled the Commercial LEO Destinations project, with plans to award up to $400 million in total contracts to as many as four companies to begin development of private space stations. In response to NASA’s request, its director of commercial spaceflight, Phil McAlister, told CNBC that the agency “received roughly about a dozen proposals” from a variety of companies for contracts under the project.

…The ISS is more than 20 years old and costs NASA about $4 billion a year to operate. The space station is approved to operate through the end of 2024, with a likely lifespan extension to the end of 2028. But, moving forward, McAlister says NASA wants “to be just one of many users instead of the primary sponsor and infrastructure supporter” for stations in low Earth orbit.

Based on these initial proposals, NASA officials estimate that the agency’s cost for running this future privately-built station will be about $1 billion per year less than the cost for operating ISS.

The agency will also only pay a part of the development cost for the new station, expecting that since the private company or companies will be making money from it also they should front a significant portion of that development cost.

Essentially NASA is following precisely the recommendations I put forth in my 2017 policy paper, Capitalism in space. And as I also predicted, the result is more achievement faster for far less cost.

Today’s blacklisted American: Gun stores in Boston suburb banned

Browning Brothers gun shop, Ogden, Utah Territory, 1882. From left to right: Thomas Samuel Browning, George Emmett Browning, John Moses Browning, Matthew Sandefur Browning, Jonathan Edmund Browning, and Frank Rushton
Gun shops banned in Brookline, Massachusetts.

They’re coming for you next: The local government in Brookline, Massachusetts, a suburban community outside of Boston, is attempting to impose new zoning regulations that would essentially ban gun stores.

Under the new zoning proposal submitted by town board members Petra Bignami, Janice Kahn, Alexandra Metral, and Sharon Schoffman, gun stores would only be allowed to operate by special permit. It also states buffer zones will be around residential properties, private and public K-12 schools, and childcare facilities, which would block firearm businesses from operating within a certain distance.

The proposal came after the City of Newton, one town over, approved new zoning rules for gun stores in June that restricted them to three locations. This action was in response to a new gun store attempting to open.

Since this very leftist community is routinely hostile to the second amendment and the right to bear arms, it would astonish me if any special permit would ever be approved. And even if one was, the buffer rules are likely so restrictive that there is probably no location in town where a gun store would be legal.

The illogic of gun control advocates always amazes me. » Read more

Glacial falls on Mars

A glacial falls on Mars
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The photo to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, was taken on July 2, 2021 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). It provides us just one more clear example of the many glaciers found in that 2,000-mile-long strip of chaos terrain at 30 to 47 degrees north latitude that runs between the northern lowland plains and the southern cratered highlands, a region I like to call Mars’ glacier country.

What makes this glacial feature interesting is that these ice-filled alcoves are south-facing, which in the northern hemisphere means they get the most sunlight. Yet, the ice here remains, well-protected by its layer of dust and debris. Think of the dirty ice slush that manages to survive the longest on city streets in the spring. The dirt acts as protection so that the ice takes more time to melt.

The overview map as always provides our context.
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China launches unmanned Tianzhou freighter to its space station

The new colonial movement: In preparation for the arrival of its next three-person crew, China yesterday successfully used its Long March 7 rocket to launch an unmanned Tianzhou freighter to its new space station, docking there seven hours later.

The Long March 7 is a new rocket that launches from China’s Wenchang spaceport on the country’s southern coast. Thus, its expendable stages fall into the ocean, not within China. The rocket also does not use toxic hypergolic fuels, but kerosene and oxygen, so it is less environmental harmful.

The crew will launch to the station on October 13th and will likely spend six months at the station.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

32 China
23 SpaceX
15 Russia
4 Northrop Grumman

The U.S. still leads China 34 to 32 in the national rankings.

SpaceX targeting 6 commercial manned flights per year

Capitalism in space: With the successfully completion of its first manned orbital private space, SpaceX officials announced yesterday that they are expecting to fly about six such commercial manned flights per year.

Benji Reed, SpaceX’s senior director for its human spaceflight program projected as many as a half a dozen flights a year. “There’s nothing really that limits our capability to launch,” he said. “It’s about having rockets and Dragons ready to go and having everything in the manifest align with our other launches.”

…“The reality is the Dragon manifest is getting busier by the moment,” Reed said, noting the planned flight in early 2022 of four passengers for customer Axiom Space that will actually fly to and stay on the ISS for a few days. “It just goes on from there. We have a number of NASA missions that we’ll do, and we also have a growing backlog of commercial astronaut missions that we’re looking forward to perform.” [emphasis mine]

The highlighted words are most intriguing, suggesting that SpaceX might have an already signed line-up of customers ready to pay the ticket price to fly on a Dragon capsule.

Meanwhile, Elon Musk announced late yesterday that he has decided to donate $50 million of his own money to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, in celebration of the completion of the Inspiration4 flight.

“This brings tears to my eyes,” wrote Inspiration4 medical officer Hayley Arceneaux, a St. Jude physicians assistant and survivor of childhood bone cancer, of Musk’s donation. “Thank you Elon Musk for this generous donation toward our $200 million dollar fundraising goal for St. Jude!!!”

Isaacman also thanked Musk and reminded the public that the fundraiser is still underway. Isaacman donated $100 million of his own money to the fundraising goal, then donated the three other seats on Inspiration4 to raise awareness for St. Jude. Arceneaux was selected by St. Jude to fill the “Hope” seat on the crew.

If you wish to make your own donation to St. Jude, you can do so here. You can donate cash directly, or you can bid to win one or more of a variety of items that were carried on the flight.

Inspiration4 passengers scheduled for return to Earth tonight

The first entirely private manned orbital mission to space is now scheduled to return to Earth tonight, with splashdown set for 7:06 pm (eastern).

The SpaceX live stream of the landing will begin approximately 4:30 pm (eastern).

Yesterday the passengers released some videos, including a conversation with children who are cancer patients at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. They also provided a video update to the general public.

As I noted yesterday, the primary goal of this flight is to raise money for St. Jude. If you wish to send a donation to St. Jude as part of the Inspiration4 spaceflight, you can do so here. You can donate cash directly, or you can bid to win one or more of a variety of items that are on the flight now.

Badlands on the floor of a Martian crater

Badlands on the floor of a Martian crater
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The photo to the right, rotated, cropped, and reduced to post here, shows one small section of a 30-mile-wide unnamed crater in the cratered equatorial regions of Mars northeast of Hellas Basin. Taken on July 21, 2021 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), the science team labeled merely as “Rocky crater fill.”

Being at 17 degrees south latitude, there shouldn’t be any ice features in this crater, and the high resolution image to the right seems to confirm this. All we see is an endless plain made up of innumerable small sharp rock ridges interspersed with small low areas filled with sand dunes. This is bed rock, and if its strange stucco-like appearance was caused by a past glacial era, that era is long gone.

Below is a mosaic showing the entire crater, created from two MRO context camera images.
» Read more

Today’s blacklisted American: Conservative teacher fired for being conservative and colorblind

Beth Reams horrible post

They’re coming for you next: Beth Reams, a math teacher at a Missouri prep school was fired when first some school alumni complained about her conservative politics that she posted on her private Facebook page and then the school administration discovered that she treated all her students equally and made no effort to find out their religion or race so as to promote the bigoted concepts of modern critical race theory.

The article at the link above tells her sad story in great detail, how the most progressive teachers and alumni from Pembroke Hill School in Kansas City, Missouri, started a campaign against her, with some accusing her of being anti-Semitic because in one Facebook post in August 2020 she published a meme — posted to the right — that made the entirely rational analogy between the Nazi death camps and the increasingly harsh COVID mandates being imposed by the state and federal governments.

It is absurd to accuse Reams of anti-Semitism for this meme. I am Jewish and lost relatives in the Nazi concentration camps, and I applaud Reams for posting it, because it expresses the very same ideas I myself have repeatedly expressed throughout 2020, that the harsh lockdowns and restrictions being imposed by governments were morally wrong, and could only lead to exactly the same kind of genocide as committed by the Nazis.

Reams’ firing however appears to have finally been prompted from something even more absurd and horrifying, revealed by the transcript of a Zoom meeting between Reams and Pembroke’s principal, Mike Hill, and its Director of Human Resources Vanessa Alpert. It appears the principal was upset because Reams made no effort to identify her students’ ethnicity or religion and make it their number one defining attribute. Instead, she focused entirely on teaching them all equally so they could learn math from her. The key portion of the transcript:
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FAA now taking public comments on the licensing of SpaceX to launch Starship/Superheavy from Boca Chica

Capitalism in space: The FAA today announced by email that it is now taking public comments on the “Draft Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA)” it requires from SpaceX before it can issue a launch license at Boca Chica, Texas for Starship/Superheavy orbital launches.

From the email:

The FAA invites interested agencies, organizations, Native American tribes, and members of the public to submit comments on all aspects of the Draft PEA. Public comments are due on Monday, October 18, 2021. Comments or questions on the Draft PEA can be addressed to Ms. Stacey Zee, SpaceX PEA, c/o ICF, 9300 Lee Highway, Fairfax, VA 22031. Comments may also be submitted by email to SpaceXBocaChica@icf.com. Before including your address, phone number, e-mail address, or other personal identifying information in your comment, be advised that your entire comment – including your personal identifying information – may be made publicly available at any time. While you can ask us in your comment to withhold from public review your personal identifying information, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so.

The FAA will also hold two public hearings on October 6th and 7th, though it provided no information yet on where those hearings will be held.

This announcement means that the Starship/Superheavy orbital test flight cannot occur any earlier than October 18, 2021, and will actually occur at least several weeks or months later, based on the schedule outlined on slide 32 of this FAA presentation [pdf]. Once the 30-day public comment period ends the FAA must then hold “an industry workshop” reviewing the comments and then issue an update of the PEA, or a rejection of it.

Though the chances of the FAA rejecting SpaceX’s permit are practically nil, I fully expect this process to be slow-walked by the FAA under orders of the Biden administration in order to do whatever it can to prevent this orbital flight occurring before SLS’s first launch, now expected in early ’22.

I hope I am wrong, and that the FAA surprises me. We can only wait and see.

Update: If you think I am crazy thinking that the politics of the Biden administration will cause a slowdown in the FAA’s process, just read this story about the FAA suddenly imposing flight restrictions at the southern border to block drone flights by media outlets that show the illegal immigrant crisis there.

“We’ve learned that the FAA just implemented a two week TFR (Temporary Flight Restrictions) over the international bridge in Del Rio, TX, meaning we can no longer fly our FOX drone over it to show images of the thousands of migrants,” Fox News reporter Bill Melugin tweeted. “FAA says ‘special security reason.’”

Fox’s report resulted in a quick lifting of this flight restriction on their drone, but the action by the Biden administration shows that it is quite willing to interfere with normal aviation regulations for its own political reasons.

India signs deal with private rocket startup

Capitalism in space: India’s new Department of Space, dedicated to encouraging the growth of a private commercial and independent Indian space industry, has signed a deal with the private rocket startup, Agnikul Cosmos, to give it access to government space facilities as it develops its own smallsat rocket.

Indian startup Agnikul Cosmos signed a framework memorandum of understanding (MOU) with India’s Department of Space on Friday for access to ISRO facilities and expertise for the development of its two-stage small-satellite Agnibaan launch vehicle.

“The Framework MoU…will enable the company for undertaking multiple tests and access facilities at various ISRO centers for testing and qualification of their single piece 3D printed Semi Cryo engine and other systems. The MoU also enable Agnikul to avail technical expertise of ISRO for testing and qualifying their space launch vehicle systems and subsystems,” ISRO said in a press release.

The company has raised more than $14.1 million in investment capital, and hopes to complete the first launch of its Agnibaan rocket by ’22.

Inspiration4 has raised $130 million so far for St. Jude out of $200 million goal

Capitalism in space: Inspiration4, the first privately launched manned orbital mission has so far raised about $130 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, still short of the $200 million goal that Jared Isaacman had set when he bought the flight from SpaceX.

A portion of the money came from 72,000 entrants in a sweepstakes that offered the chance to win a seat on the flight. Entrants were encouraged, but not required, to donate to St. Jude, according to the contest rules, which estimated the retail value of the space flight at $2.21 million.

Crew member Chris Sembroski, a 42-year-old data engineer and U.S. Air Force veteran from Everett, Wash., entered the lottery by donating. He didn’t win, but a friend did and gave him the slot, according to the Associated Press.

If you wish to send a donation to St. Jude as part of the Inspiration4 spaceflight, you can do so here. You can donate cash directly, or you can bid to win one or more of a variety of items that are on the flight now.

China’s three astronauts land safely

The new colonial movement: China’s three astronauts safely returned to Earth today after spending 91 days in space and 90 days on China’s new space station.

During their stay they did two spacewalks preparing the station for additional modules and later missions.

China is expected to send the robotic Tianzhou 3 cargo spacecraft toward Tianhe around Sept. 20. And the next crewed mission to the module, the six-month-long Shenzhou 13, is apparently scheduled to launch in mid-October. (Exact target dates are hard to come by with Chinese missions, because the nation tends not to announce many details of its spaceflight plans in advance.)

China will also in the next year launch two more large modules to attach to the station, using its Long March 5B rocket. Assuming they have not redesigned that rocket, expect the very large upper stage on both launches to once again crash out-of-control somewhere on the Earth, possibly in habitable areas.

Today’s blacklisted Americans: Any tenant not vaccinated in Florida apartment complex

Coming to your town in America soon!
Rounding up the unclean unvaccinated: What the left nationwide wants.

They’re coming for you next: A Florida landlord is now demanding that any future tenant show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or they will be turned away, and any present unvaccinated tenant move when their lease expires.

If you’re not vaccinated for COVID-19, you can forget about moving into any of eight apartment complexes in Broward and Miami-Dade counties owned by Santiago A. Alvarez and his family.

And if you’re still unvaccinated when it comes time to renew your lease, you’ll have to find someplace else to live.

Alvarez, who controls 1,200 units in the two counties, is the first large-scale landlord known to national housing experts to impose a vaccine requirement not only for employees, but also for tenants. They’ll be required to produce documentation that they’ve received at least an initial vaccine dose.

The policy, which took effect Aug. 15, could set Alvarez’s company on a collision course with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ vaccine passport ban, which prohibits businesses from requiring that customers be vaccinated.

The story reports that already two tenants have contacted attorneys with plans to challenge this discriminatory policy in court. Note too that since the largest percentage of unvaccinated individuals comes from the black community, Alvarez is essentially discriminating against blacks with this policy. It seems that, for the left, the mantra “Housing is a right!” now only applies to those who agree with them. All others should be homeless.
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Curiosity: Into the mountains!

Curiosity's path into the mountains
Click for full image.

Overview map
Click for interactive map.

Time for another cool image from Curiosity. The photo above was taken by one of the rover’s navigation cameras today, and looks south in the direction of Curiosity’s future travels. The red dotted line shows that planned route, along the cliff face to then turn west into what the science team has dubbed Maria Gordon Notch, in honor of a Scottish scientist from the early 20th century.

The map to the right gives the context as seen from above, as well as the planned travels beyond the notch. The white dotted route marks Curiosity’s actual travel route. The red dotted line marks the planned route. The yellow lines the area seen in the above picture.

At present Curiosity is paused as it performs a new drilling campaign about 200 feet from the base of that cliff face, drilling the rover’s 33rd hole on Mars.

The outcrop resembling a ship’s prow on the image’s right, which I still consider the most spectacular rock outcrop seen yet on any planetary mission anywhere, is about 100 feet high.

Chinese astronauts undock from space station in return to Earth

The new colonial movement: Three Chinese astronauts, having completed their 90 day mission on China’s new space station, early today boarded their Shenzhou capsule and undocked from the station, with the expectation that they will return to Earth sometime tomorrow.

The astronauts have already set China’s record for the most time spent in space. After launching on June 17, mission commander Nie and astronauts Liu and Tang went on two spacewalks, deployed a 10-meter (33-foot) mechanical arm, and had a video call with Communist Party leader Xi Jinping.

Following their safe return, China will launch another unmanned cargo freighter to the station, followed by the launch of three more astronauts for another 90 day mission, continuing the station’s assembly construction. In addition to several more manned flights, in the next two years two more large modules will added.

NOTE: The New York Times actually did some good [and increasingly rare] journalism today to point out that the number of people presently in space, 14, is a record, beating the 13 that were on ISS in 2009. The difference now is that those spacefarers are on three different and very independent projects, ISS, the Chinese space program, and the first entirely private space mission launched by SpaceX.

NASA awards small design lunar lander contracts to five companies

In what appears to be an effort by NASA to placate the losers in the bidding for the manned lunar lander contract, won by SpaceX’s Starship, the agency this week awarded small design contracts related to future lunar lander construction to five different companies, totaling $ 146 million and with the large bulk of the cash going to those losers.

The contracts were as follows:

  • Dynetics (a Leidos company) of Huntsville, Alabama, $40.8 million.
  • Lockheed Martin of Littleton, Colorado, $35.2 million.
  • Northrop Grumman of Dulles, Virginia, $34.8 million.
  • Blue Origin Federation of Kent, Washington, $25.6 million.
  • SpaceX of Hawthorne, California, $9.4 million.

From the press release:

The selected companies will develop lander design concepts, evaluating their performance, design, construction standards, mission assurance requirements, interfaces, safety, crew health accommodations, and medical capabilities. The companies will also mitigate lunar lander risks by conducting critical component tests and advancing the maturity of key technologies.

While the distribution of the money suggests NASA wishes to provide the most support to the companies that lost the bid, it also gives us a hint of what the agency presently thinks of those losers. Of the losers, Blue Origin received the least, suggesting that NASA remains skeptical of that company’s effort. It also might be NASA’s signal to Blue Origin that endless lawsuits and protests — rather than actual construction — is not a good way to make friends and influence people. This conclusion is reinforced by the fact that Dynetics received the most cash, even though like Blue Origin it has yet to launch anything into orbit.

This distribution of money is also part of the typical pattern of DC crony capitalism, designed almost like pay offs to capture these companies and make them partners in the Washington swamp.

One big space company, Boeing, however received nothing. The company might not have submitted a proposal, but I suspect that if it did, NASA dismissed it outright based on the agency’s decision last year to eliminate Boeing from such contract considerations because of the incredible weakness of its recent bids. I think that Boeing will remain on the outs until it finally gets Starliner flying and operational.

SpaceX leases several large facilities in Brownsville, Texas

Capitalism in space: In a clear sign that SpaceX plans to expand its Starship/Superheavy operations in Boca Chica, Texas, it has now leased several large facilities in nearby Brownsville.

Earlier this month, the company signed leases with the Brownsville South Padre Island Airport (BRO) for 46,000 square feet of warehouse space and a neighboring private industrial park owned by PacVentures for 60,000 square feet of warehouse space. Francisco Partida, the airport’s special projects manager, said talks with SpaceX about leasing the former Taylorcraft building at 2100 Les Mauldin Road began in mid-July.

The company was looking for 100,000 square feet of warehouse, which the airport couldn’t supply, though SpaceX found the additional square footage it needed in the privately owned industrial park at 1900 Billy Mitchell Blvd., he said.

SpaceX has also committed about a half million dollars to repairing and refurbishing the airport warehouse.

Astronaut’s mission on ISS will be extended to almost a year

As expected because the Russian’s have taken his return seat in October to bring home two commercial passengers (a film director and his star actress), the mission of astronaut Mark Vande Hei has been extended to March for a total of 353 days in space, just short of a year.

This time will exceed the previous American record for the longest spaceflight, set by Scott Kelly during his 340 day mission in 2015. It remains below about four Russian flights that lasted a full year or more, including the longest flight so far by Valeri Polyakov of 438 days in 1993 and 1994.

Meanwhile, there is no word on the state of the pinched nerve that forced NASA to replace Vande Hei on an upcoming spacewalk. It is likely that weightlessness is probably helping it heal, but NASA and Vande Hei are presently keeping this personal medical information private.

The real human exploration of the solar system began on September 15, 2021

Falcon 9 at T+13 seconds

Capitalism in space: First the news: On September 15, 2021 SpaceX successfully placed four civilians into orbit using its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule.

Thus began the first private manned orbital mission in space, planned to last three days and reach an altitude of 595 kilometers or 370 miles, the highest any person has flown in space in decades.

The first stage, on its third flight, successfully landed for reuse. The Dragon capsule, Resilience, was on its second manned flight. The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

31 China
23 SpaceX
15 Russia
4 Northrop Grumman

The U.S. now leads China 34 to 31 in the national rankings.

Now the significance: There was one moment about five minutes after lift off that revealed the fundamental difference between this real flight into space and the short suborbital hops that Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic did in July.

The three most critical moments of any launch had just been completed. The first stage engines had cut off, the first stage had separated successfully, and the single upper stage engine had ignited. It was now lifting the capsule towards orbit, with the only major technical task left were its engine cut off and the separation of the Dragon capsule.

At that moment John Insprucker, principal integretion engineer for SpaceX and frequent host during its launch live streams, made a quick comment that was clearly meant to illustrate the vast difference in achievement between this flight and those two July suborbital flights. He said,
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Lozenge-shaped hole in Martian crater

Hole in crater floor
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The photo to the right, rotated, cropped, reduced, and enhanced to post here, was taken on June 7, 2021 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).

The left image shows what the scientists have dubbed a “lozenge-shaped depression” in the middle of an unnamed 60-mile-wide crater in the southern cratered highlands of Mars. The right image shows the same exact depression, but I have brightened the photo in order to see the details in the shadowed depression.

Though the image is inconclusive, the bottom of the darkest spot in that depression cannot be seen, suggesting it could be an entrance into a larger void below.

Even if there is no voids below, why is this depression here? What caused it? The wider view of MRO’s context camera below might give us a hint.
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