Tag Archives: Moon

Triple impact on Moon

Impact craters Messier and Messier A on the Moon

Cool image time! A new image release from Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) takes a look at the impact process that created the crater Messier and its neighbor crater Messier A. The photo to the right, cropped to post here, shows both craters.

Take a close look at Messier A. It is actually a double crater itself. From the release:

Messier A crater, located in Mare Fecunditatis, presents an interesting puzzle. The main crater is beautifully preserved, with a solidified pond of impact melt resting in its floor. But there is another impact crater beneath and just to the west of Messier A. This more subdued and degraded impact crater clearly formed first.

Did these three craters happen as separate events. According to the data, it appears no. Instead, they might have all been part of a single rain of asteroids, all occurring in seconds.
» Read more

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Yutu-2 and Chang’e-4 complete 16h lunar day on Moon

China’s Yutu-2 rover and Chang’e-4 lander have now successfully completed their sixteenth lunar day on the far side of the Moon, and have been put into hibernation for the long lunar night.

This means that both spacecraft have now worked longer on the Moon than any previous mission.

The news report, from China’s state-run press, provides only one real piece of information: Yutu-2 has now traveled a total of 424.45 meters (1,393 feet), which means it traveled about 24 meters (79 feet) during this sixteenth lunar day.

Their goal is to reach a different geological area of basalt a little over a mile away, a journey they say will take about a year.

I question that time frame however. Yutu-2 has averaged about 88 feet travel per lunar day. To go a mile at that pace will take about sixty lunar days, which is equivalent to between four and five years. The difference might be because the information at the second link is a bit unclear, and that they hope to begin entering the basalt region much sooner.

We shall just have to wait and see.

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NASA awards SpaceX deal to provide cargo to Gateway

Capitalism in space: Should NASA ever decide to build its proposed Gateway space station in orbit around the Moon (the odds of which have gone down recently), it announced today that it has signed a deal with SpaceX to use its Falcon Heavy rocket and an upgraded larger version of its Dragon capsule to ship cargo to that station.

The deal calls for at least two missions, and is SpaceX’s first deal in NASA’s Artemis program.

This deal is a major blow to SLS and Boeing, which up to now had a monopoly on all launches to supply and launch Gateway. In fact, Gateway was invented by Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and NASA (not Congress) in order to justify SLS’s existence. That NASA has now decided it is better off using the much cheaper and already operational Falcon Heavy for some Gateway missions suggests that SLS is increasingly vulnerable to cancellation. NASA is making it obvious that other commercial options exist. No need to wait years and spend billions for SLS, when they can go now, for much less.

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Chang’e-4 and Yutu-2 awake for 16th lunar day

Engineers have reactivated their Chang’e-4 lander and Yutu-2 rover on the far side of the Moon to begin their sixteenth lunar day of operations.

The article provides some good information about the future plans for Yutu-2, including some maps showing its overall travels and planned route.

[A] new plan has been formulated for the Yutu 2 rover, which has already provided insights into the composition of the surface and what lies below. Li Chunlai, deputy director of the National Astronomical Observatories of China (NAOC), told the state-run news outlet CCTV+ that the Yutu 2 team are targeting distant areas.

Yutu 2 has been driving across an area covered in ejecta from impact craters, but reaching new ground would be insightful. “If it can enter a basalt zone, maybe we can better understand [the] distribution and structure of ejecta from meteorite impacts,” Li said. “The distance may be 1.8 kilometers [1.1 miles]. I think it may take another one year for the rover to walk out of the ejecta-covered area.”

The rover has been averaging less than a hundred feet of travel per lunar day, so going 1.1 miles will take some time. Kudos however for the rover’s science team for deciding to attempt it. The decision reminds me of a similar decision by the Opportunity rover team to send their rover to Endeavour Crater, miles from their landing site. They made it, and thus explored a region no one ever expected the rover to reach.

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NASA considering shutting down Curiosity in 2021

Even as the space agency is about to launch a new rover to Mars, it is considering cutting operations for the rover Curiosity as well as considering shutting down its operation as soon as 2021.

Other ongoing missions are threatened by the administration’s fiscal year 2021 budget proposal. “The FY21 budget that the president just recently submitted overall is extremely favorable for the Mars program, but available funding for extended mission longevity is limited,” [said Jim Watzin, director of NASA’s Mars exploration program].

That request would effectively end operations of the Mars Odyssey orbiter, launched in 2001, and reduce the budget for Curiosity from $51.1 million in 2019 to $40 million in 2021, with no funding projected for that rover mission beyond 2021.

The penny-wise-pound-foolish nature of such a decision is breath-taking. Rather than continue, for relatively little cost, running a rover already in place on Mars, the agency will shut it down. And why? So they can initiate other Mars missions costing millions several times more money.

Some of the proposed cuts, such as ending the U.S. funding for Europe’s Mars Express orbiter, make sense. That orbiter has accomplished relatively little, and Europe should be paying for it anyway.

These decisions were announced during a live-stream NASA townhall that was originally to have occurred live at the cancelled Lunar & Planetary Science conference. I suspect its real goal is to garner support for more funding so that the agency will not only get funds for the new missions, it will be able to fund the functioning old ones as well.

Sadly, there would be plenty of money for NASA’s well-run planetary program if our Congress and NASA would stop wasting money on failed projects like Artemis.

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Wednesday at the non-existent Lunar & Planetary Science Conference

The Moon's south pole

My virtual coverage of the cancelled 51st annual Lunar & Planetary Science conference continues today with a review of the abstracts of presentations that were planned for today, but unfortunately will never be presented.

As a side note, the social shutdown being imposed on America due to the panic over COVID-19 has some side benefits, as has been noted in a bunch of stories today. Not only will this possibly destroy the power the left has on college campuses as universities quickly shift to online courses, it will also likely put an end to the endless science conferences that are usually paid for by U.S. tax dollars. (That cost includes not just the expense of the conference, but the fees and transportation costs of the participants, almost all of whom get the money from either their government job or through research grants from the government.)

Anyway, for good or ill, the virus shut down the planetary conference in Texas this week, forcing me to post these daily summaries based not on real presentations where I would have interviewed the scientists and gotten some questions answered, but on their abstracts placed on line beforehand. Today, the three big subjects were the south pole of the Moon (as shown in the map above from one abstract [pdf], produced by one instrument on Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter [LRO]), the Martian environment, and Titan. I will take them it that order.
» Read more

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Gateway dropped from NASA lunar landing plans

According to the head of NASA’s manned program, the agency has revised its 2024 lunar landing plans so that the Lunar Gateway space station is no longer needed.

In a conversation with the NASA Advisory Council’s science committee March 13, Doug Loverro, NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations, said he had been working to “de-risk” the Artemis program to focus primarily on the mandatory activities needed to achieve the 2024 landing goal.

…Later in the half-hour session, he said that means taking the lunar Gateway off the critical path for the 2024 landing. That was in part because of what he deemed a “high possibility” of it falling behind schedule since it will use high-power solar electric propulsion in its first module, the Power and Propulsion Element. “From a physics perspective, I can guarantee you we do not need it for this launch,” he said of the Gateway.

Loverro added that he wasn’t cutting Gateway, only pushing it back in order to prioritize their effort in getting to the lunar surface more quickly.

The Trump administration has been slowly easing NASA away from Gateway, probably doing so slowly in order to avoid upsetting some people in Congress (Hi there Senator Shelby!). They have probably looked at the budget numbers, the schedule, and the technical obstacles that are all created by Gateway, and have realized that they either can go to the Moon, or build a dead-end space station in lunar orbit. They have chosen the former.

Someday a Gateway station will be needed and built. This is not the time. I pray the Trump administration can force this decision through Congress.

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Earth’s day was half hour shorter 70 million years ago

Using data from an ancient fossil shell, scientists have determined that 70 million years ago the Earth’s day was about 30 minutes shorter, and that a year comprised 372 days.

This result is not a surprise, as scientists have known for a long time that the day has been growing longer as the Moon’s gravity, producing tides, wears away at the Earth’s rotation. This data however is the most precise yet, and will allow scientists to better constrain not only the Earth’s changing rotation over time but the Moon’s orbit. As it slows the Earth’s rotation its own orbit around the Earth gets longer, pushing it farther away.

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SLS likely launch mid- to late-2021

According to comments by one NASA official last week, the first flight of SLS will likely not occur until the middle or late 2021, a further delay than the most recent prediction of April 2021.

NASA Associate Administrator Steve Jurczyk said on Friday that the first launch of the Space Launch System (SLS) with an uncrewed Orion spacecraft, Artemis I, will take place in mid-late 2021. He also said NASA will award contracts “within weeks” for the Human Landing System (HLS) as NASA strives to meet the Trump Administration’s goal of landing astronauts on the Moon by 2024 — the Artemis program. Embracing Artemis is the first step towards a trillion dollar cislunar space economy according to space industry executive Tory Bruno who spoke at the same conference in Laurel, MD. He urged everyone to stop “squabbling” and support the program.

There is a lot more in the article, including a lot of advocacy by Jurczyk and others for Lunar Gateway. I also found certain aspects of the Trump administration’s effort to make their 2024 target date for manned lunar landing, specifically related to the quick development of that Human Landing System (HLS), somewhat concerning:

We can’t thrash on the requirements. So on HLS, we said 90 days, we’re going to nail down the requirements. And if we can’t agree, NASA’s just going to tell you, use ours. We’re going to negotiate technical standards. Either use ours or show equivalency to yours, but after 90 days if we can’t get agreement, you’re going to use ours. … 90 days and we’re done with Human Landing System requirements.

I am all for doing it fast but one needs to also do it smart. I wonder about this approach.

Jurczyk noted that the administration and NASA are doing a lot of work outlining their plans for the whole Artemis exploration program following that lunar landing, and hope to reveal it by the end of March. Since this program still remains unfunded by Congress, that announcement will be part of the political campaign to obtain those funds.

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Chang’e-4 and Yutu-2 complete 15th lunar day on Moon

Chinese engineers have put both Chang’e-4 and Yutu-2 into sleep mode after successfully completing their fifteenth lunar day on the far side of the Moon.

According to the story from China’s state-run press, Yutu-2 has now traveled just under 400 meters, or about 1,311 feet. We do not have a map outlining its total path, though past data suggests it has generally traveled westward away from Chang’e-4. Other than this detail, the story provides little other information.

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First image of possible asteroid in orbit around the Earth

asteroid orbiting the Earth?
Click for full image.

The Gemini telescope in Hawaii has produced the first image of what might be only the second asteroid ever discovered in orbit around the Earth.

The newly discovered orbiting object has been assigned the provisional designation 2020 CD3 by the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center. If it is natural in origin, such as an asteroid, then it is only the second known rocky satellite of the Earth ever discovered in space other than the Moon. The other body, discovered in 2006, has since been ejected out of Earth orbit. 2020 CD3 was discovered on the night of 15 February 2020 by Kacper Wierzchos and Teddy Pruyne at the Catalina Sky Survey operating out of the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory in Tucson, Arizona.

The photo to the right has been cropped to post here. The streaks are stars, since the telescope was tracking the asteroid in an attempt to cull the most resolution of it from the image.

This object is only a few yards across, and could very well be a piece of space junk from a mission launched many decades ago. It is also not in a stable orbit around the Earth, and is expected to be ejected from that orbit in April.

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VIPER lunar rover delayed, NASA seeks new bids for delivering it to Moon

NASA earlier this week revealed that it is delaying the launch of its VIPER lunar rover until 2023, even as it announced that it is seeking new bids from commercial companies for delivering it to Moon.

In the past two months NASA has apparently been trying to reorganize its unmanned lunar exploration, resulting it a variety of puzzling and sometimes sudden shifts in policy and direction. First they announced they are going to issue a request for proposals, then they delayed it, then they issued it only to withdrew it one week later, with no explanation.

This week’s announcement is another attempt to release this request, accompanied by the delay in VIPER. Though NASA says the delay is to allow “for upgrades so that the rover can conduct longer and more exciting science on the Moon”, I think instead it is to simplify it so that the commercial companies will be able to launch and land it. VIPER’s heritage designs come from an earlier NASA rover project dubbed Resource Prospector that was cancelled because it was going to be too expensive and complex. I think the private companies building landers for such a rover told NASA that they couldn’t handle those heritage designs, forcing NASA to rethink.

If my suspicions are true, this is actually a very good sign. NASA is allowing the private sector to guide it in ways to save money and work more efficiently. That guidance might cause some initial delays as NASA shifts course, but in the long run it will make for a better run operation, costing less while accomplishing more.

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Chinese scientists publish radar results from Chang’e-4 lander

Layers as seen below ground by Chang'e-4 radar

The new colonial movement: Chinese scientists today published their first ground-penetrating radar results from their Chang’e-4 lander on the far side of the Moon.

Using a ground-penetrating radar instrument on Chang’e-4, researchers have found that the rover is likely sitting on different layers of ejecta—debris from multiple impacts over time that rained down at high velocities to blanket the lunar surface and now fill the crater. “[We] see a very clear sequence of [layers],” says Elena Pettinelli of Roma Tre University in Italy, one of the paper’s co-authors.

The rover’s radar instrument was able to penetrate up to 40 meters below the surface of the moon, more than twice the distance achieved by its predecessor, the Chang’e-3 mission, which landed on the lunar near side in December 2013. Data from the latest mission show three distinct layers beneath the rover: one made of lunar regolith, or soil, down to 12 meters; another made of a mix of smaller and larger rocks down to 24 meters; and a third with both coarse and fine materials extending the rest of the 40-meter depth.

The figure to the right comes from the paper [pdf] Though the layers have not been dated, their differences suggest different past events in the formation of this surface.

These results are excellent, but they also have many uncertainties. Radar can tell you a lot, but the only way you can really ever know anything about what’s below ground is to go there and actually do some digging.

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Yutu-2 finds rocks that appear young

Yutu-2 has found a cluster of small rocks that appear relatively young, with little erosion.

The rocks also also appear as if they came from another place on the Moon.

Closer inspection of the rocks by the rover team revealed little erosion, which on the moon is caused by micrometeorites and the huge changes in temperature across long lunar days and nights. That anomaly suggests that the fragments are relatively young. Over time, rocks tend to erode into soils.

The relative brightness of the rocks also indicated they may have originated in an area very different to the one Yutu-2 is exploring.

Youth in this case is very relative. The rocks might be young when compared to the surface on which they sit, but they still could be more than a billion years olf.

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Chang’e-4 and Yutu-2 awake for their 15th lunar day

The new colonial movement: Engineers have reactivated China’s Chang’e-4 lander and Yutu-2 rover for their 15th lunar day on the far side of the Moon.

As usual, the story in China’s state-run press reveals little. This time however it does mention that Yutu-2 will continue traveling to the west, first to the northwest and then to the southwest.

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Rocket Lab gets launch contract for lunar cubesat

Capitalism in space: NASA has awarded Rocket Lab the contract to launch the privately-built, for NASA, lunar orbiting cubesat CAPSTONE, designed to test technologies and the orbital mechanics required to build its Gateway lunar space station.

This quote says it all:

The firm-fixed-price launch contract is valued at $9.95 million. In September, NASA awarded a $13.7 million contract to Advanced Space of Boulder, Colorado, to develop and operate the CubeSat.

Using two different private companies, one to build the satellite and the other to launch it, NASA will get a lunar orbiter for just over $23 million. That total equals the rounding error for almost all NASA-built projects.

The launch is set for early 2021.

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NASA delays commercial bidding process for its unmanned lunar landers

Capitalsm in space: NASA has postponed the bidding process for both the commercially-built lander that will bring its its VIPER lunar rover as well as the smaller landers that will bring simpler science packages to the Moon.

In the first case, it appears that the commercial companies wanted more time because VIPER is a heavier and bigger payload than their landers are currently designed for. In the second case, the reasons for the postponement are less clear, leaving the companies involved somewhat puzzled and in the dark.

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Yutu-2 and Chang’e-5 complete 14th lunar day

China’s Yutu-2 rover and Chang’e-5 lander have successfully completed their fourteenth lunar day of operations on the far side of the Moon, and have gone into hibernation.

The report from China’s state-run news agency is, as usual, decidedly uninformative. It is written to make it appear that Yutu-2 traveled 367 meters during this most recent lunar day, when in truth that is the total distance since landing. In comparing this total with the total at the end of the thirteenth lunar day, we find that Yutu-2 actually traveled only ten meters.

The report also provided no other information about where the rover went, or what it has been doing, other than saying the rover and its instruments operated as “planned.” The article did not even include a picture, either new or old.

It is a shame that China operates in this secret way. They are doing good stuff on the Moon. If they touted it proudly to the world, in as much detail as possible, they would do themselves far more good.

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NASA picks science payloads for 1st two unmanned private lunar landers

Capitalism in space: NASA has chosen the science instruments that will be put on the 1st two unmanned privately built lunar landers aimed at arriving on the Moon in 2021.

Two experiments will be flown on both landers. The Astrobotic lander gets an additional nine instruments, while Intuitive Machines gets three.

The most interesting tidbit from the press release is that NASA hopes to make “about two deliveries of scientific and research payloads to the Moon per year starting in 2021.” Seems overly optimistic to me, though in the long run the approach makes sense for NASA. These landers are relatively small and cheap, so the cost to fly a lot of them is not exorbitant. Under this arrangement, if one fails you simply figure out why and quickly fly another.

For this new American industry the approach also works. The companies will own the designs, so soon they will be able to market this technology to other customers, at what is historically record low prices for such a mission. The result is likely going to be the arrival of a swarm of new customers.

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SpaceIL gets $1 million grant for building Beresheet-2

The Israeli non-profit that built Beresheet-1 has received a $1 million grant in order to pursue building Beresheet-2.

The Blavatnik Family Foundation has provided a one million dollar grant to SpaceIL to support the “Beresheet 2” spacecraft program and advance the goal of landing an unmanned Israeli spacecraft on the Moon. “Beresheet 1”, launched on February 22, 2019, made Israel the 7th country in the world to reach the Moon’s orbit. The new Blavatnik grant will enable SpaceIL to recruit a new CEO to drive plans for “Beresheet 2” forward.

It remains unknown whether Beresheet-2 will ever get built. The money is insufficient to build a new lunar lander. Moreover, several of SpaceIL engineers have left the company and formed their own private space business, partnering with Firefly Aerospace to build their own lunar lander.

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China releases data and images from Yutu-2 and Chang’e-3

Yutu-2 on the far side of the Moon
Click for full image.

The new colonial movement: To celebrate the completion of a year on the lunar surface, China has released the bulk of the data and images produced by the lander Chang’e-3 and the rover Yutu-2.

The link includes a nice gallery of images. I especially like the image to the right, cropped to post here. It shows Yutu-2 moving away from Chang’e-3 early in the mission. It also shows how truly colorless the Moon is. The rover proves this is a color image, but if it wasn’t in the shot you’d have no way of knowing.

And then there is that pitch black sky. I wonder what’s behind it.

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India releases Vikram failure report

India’s space agency ISRO has released its investigation report on the failure of its lunar lander Vikram on September 7, 2019 to soft land on the Moon.

The Chandrayaan-2’s Vikram lander ended up spinning over 410 degrees, deviating from a calibrated spin of 55 degrees, and making a hard landing on the moon, according to ISRO scientists. The anomaly, which occurred during the second of four phases of the landing process, was reflected in the computer systems in the mission control room, but ISRO scientists could not intervene to correct it as the lander was on autonomous mode, using data already fed into its system before the start of the powered descent.

According to the report, they are using what was learned to incorporate changes in Chandrayaan-3, their next attempt at putting a lander and rover on the Moon, presently scheduled to launch 14 to 16 months from now. That launch date, about six months later than previous reports, also seems more realistic. Initially the agency was saying it planned to launch Chandrayaan-3 in less than a year from project inception, by November 2020, a schedule that seemed rushed and ripe for mistakes.

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Yutu-2 completes 13th lunar day

China’s Yutu-2 lunar rover and its lander Chang’e-4 have completed their thirteenth lunar day on the far side of the Moon and have been placed in sleep mode.

During the twelve lunar day the rover traveled about 12 meters, or about 40 feet.

The rover has found materials from deep inside the moon that could help unravel the mystery of the lunar mantle’s composition and the formation and evolution of the moon and the earth. Using data obtained by the visible and near-infrared spectrometer installed on Yutu-2, Chinese scientists found that the lunar soil in the landing area of the Chang’e-4 probe contains olivine and pyroxene which came from the lunar mantle deep inside the moon.

Due to the complicated geological environment and the rugged and heavily cratered terrain on the far side of the moon, the rover drives slowly but steadily and is expected to continue traveling on the moon and make more scientific discoveries.

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Repost: The real meaning of the Apollo 8 Earthrise image

I wrote this essay last year, to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 8 mission to the Moon. I think it worth reposting, especially because stories about Apollo 8 still refuse to show the Earthrise image as Bill Anders took it. Note that they took the picture on Christmas Eve, not Christmas day.
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Earthrise, as seen by a space-farer

Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the moment when the three astronauts on Apollo 8 witnessed their first Earthrise while in orbit around the Moon, and Bill Anders snapped the picture of that Earthrise that has been been called “the most influential environmental picture ever taken.”

The last few days have seen numerous articles celebrating this iconic image. While all have captured in varying degrees the significance and influence of that picture on human society on Earth, all have failed to depict this image as Bill Anders, the photographer, took it. He did not frame the shot, in his mind, with the horizon on the bottom of the frame, as it has been depicted repeatedly in practically every article about this image, since the day it was published back in 1968.

Instead, Anders saw himself as an spaceman in a capsule orbiting the waist of the Moon. He also saw the Earth as merely another space object, now appearing from behind the waist of that Moon. As a result, he framed the shot with the horizon to the right, with the Earth moving from right to left as it moved out from behind the Moon, as shown on the right.

His perspective was that of a spacefarer, an explorer of the universe that sees the planets around him as objects within that universe in which he floats.

When we here are on Earth frame the image with the horizon on the bottom, we immediately reveal our limited planet-bound perspective. We automatically see ourselves on a planet’s surface, watching another planet rise above the distant horizon line.

This difference in perspective is to me the real meaning of this picture. On one hand we see the perspective of the past. On the other we see the perspective the future, for as long humanity can remain alive.

I prefer the future perspective, which is why I framed this image on the cover of Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8 the way Bill Anders took it. I prefer to align myself with that space-faring future.

And it was that space-faring future that spoke when they read from Genesis that evening. They had made the first human leap to another world, and they wished to describe and capture the majesty of that leap to the world. They succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.

Yet, they were also still mostly Earth-bound in mind, which is why Frank Borman’s concluding words during that Christmas eve telecast were so heartfelt. He was a spaceman in a delicate vehicle talking to his home of Earth, 240,000 miles away. “And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you — all of you on the good Earth.” They longed deeply to return, a wish that at that moment, in that vehicle, was quite reasonable.

Someday that desire to return to Earth will be gone. People will live and work and grow up in space, and see the Earth as Bill Anders saw it in his photograph fifty years ago.

And it is for that time that I long. It will be a future of majesty we can only imagine.

Merry Christmas to all, all of us still pinned down here on “the good Earth.”

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Yutu-2 sets new longevity record for lunar rover

China’s Yutu-2 lunar rover has now set a new longevity record for any rover on the Moon, beating the 10.5 month record set by the Soviet Union’s Lunokhod 1 rover in 1970-1971.

Lunokhod 1 traveled about 6.5 miles, or about 34,000 feet, during its operation. Chinese engineers have been more cautious, moving Yutu-2 only about 1,132 feet in the same time period.

The Chinese rover is still operating, though relatively little data has been released from it. At the moment it has been placed in its hibernation mode as it makes it through its twelfth lunar night.

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Chang’e-4 and Yutu-2 complete 12th lunar day

Chinese engineers have put both Chang’e-4 and Yutu-2 into dormant mode after completed their twelve lunar day on the far side of the Moon.

The article from the Chinese state-run press provides very little information, other than telling us that Yutu-2 traveled 345 meters, written in a way to imply that was the distance the rover traveled in this last lunar day. I think that is wrong, however. Based on the distances traversed during previous lunar days, and that the rover had traveled a total of 290 meters at the end of its tenth lunar day, I think this new number is the total distance traveled.

The article also does not say what the consequences will be for these two spacecraft now that the priority of their communications relay has shifted from communications to being a radio telescope.

It could be that the consequences will be minor, considering that both spacecraft are in sleep mode during the lunar nights and for high noon of the lunar day. During those periods the relay satellite could be devoted full time to radio astronomy and have no impact on the lander and rover.

Unfortunately China has not said.

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Crash site of Vikram found

Vikram impact point
Click for full image.

Using a mosaic of Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) images, citizen scientist Shanmuga Subramanian located on the Moon the debris and impact point for India’s Vikram lander that crashed there in September, an identification that has since been confirmed by LRO scientists.

The image on the right, reduced to post here, has been modified by the scientists to bring out the features that changed before and after the impact.

After receiving this tip the LROC team confirmed the identification by comparing before and after images. When the images for the first mosaic were acquired the impact point was poorly illuminated and thus not easily identifiable. Two subsequent image sequences were acquired on 14, 15 October and 11 November. The LROC team scoured the surrounding area in these new mosaics and found the impact site (70.8810°S, 22.7840°E, 834 m elevation) and associated debris field. The November mosaic had the best pixel scale (0.7 meter) and lighting conditions (72° incidence angle).

The debris first located by Shanmuga is about 750 meters northwest of the main crash site and was a single bright pixel identification in that first mosaic (1.3 meter pixels, 84° incidence angle). The November mosaic shows best the impact crater, ray and extensive debris field. The three largest pieces of debris are each about 2×2 pixels and cast a one pixel shadow.

No word yet on what this new information reveals about Vikram’s failure.

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China unfolds Dutch radio antennas on lunar relay satellite

Chinese engineers have unfolded and activated the Dutch radio antennas on Queqiao, their lunar relay satellite orbiting the Moon, an action that had been delayed because the lander Chang’e-4 and rover Yutu-2 had both exceeded their nominal mission on the surface.

The Chinese satellite was previously mainly seen as a communications satellite. However, the Chinese moon mission has by now achieved its primary goals. Consequently, the Chinese have redefined the satellite to be a radio observatory. As such, the Netherlands-China Low Frequency Explorer is the first Dutch-Chinese space observatory for radio astronomy.

Marc Klein Wolt, Managing Director of the Radboud Radio Lab and leader of the Dutch team, is happy: “Our contribution to the Chinese Chang’e 4 mission has now increased tremendously. We have the opportunity to perform our observations during the fourteen-day-long night behind the moon, which is much longer than was originally the idea. The moon night is ours, now.”

If Queqiao is now dedicated to being a radio antenna full time during the lunar night, I wonder if this means the Chinese are shutting down Chang’e-4 and Yutu-2. Up to now both spacecraft have only operated during the lunar night, which suggests that was the only time they could relay data. It is possible that data relay could take place at other times, and that the lander and rover can function autonomously, but I have my doubts.

Both Chang’e-4 and Yutu-2 functioned for twelve lunar nights, four times longer than planned, so shifting gears on Queqiao to do radio astronomy is not unreasonable. Unfortunately, the lack of transparency from China leaves us in the dark about the fate of Chang’e-4 and Yutu-2.

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Chang’e-4 and Yutu-2 begin 12th lunar day

Chinese engineers have reactivated both their lunar lander, Chang’e-4, and its rover, Yutu-2, for their twelve lunar day on the far side of the Moon.

The lander woke up at 5:03 p.m. Thursday (Beijing Time), and the rover, Yutu-2 (Jade Rabbit-2), awoke at 0:51 a.m. the same day. Both are in normal working order, according to the Lunar Exploration and Space Program Center of the China National Space Administration.

No word on where Yutu-2 will be sent over then next two weeks.

Posting was light during the day today because Diane and I were on a hike that I needed to do for the upcoming planned second edition of my hiking guidebook, Circuit Hikes of Southern Arizona. My boss (me) allowed me to go, since this hike was not pure pleasure, but reconnaissance for one of my books.

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