Today’s Tidbits: October 26, 2017

Today’s Tidbits: October 26, 2017

Here are our tidbits for October 26, 2017:  NASA will announce the new EM-1 launch date “in about a week”; JSC and JPL have a friendly World Series wager; is Ceres another Ocean World?  Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter (@SpcPlcyOnline) for more news and live tweeting of events.

EM-1 Launch Date to Be Announced In About A Week

Jeff Foust from Space News has been live tweeting the American Astronautical Society’s 2017 Wernher von Braun Symposium in Huntsville, AL these past two days.  Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot was the luncheon speaker today and Foust tweeted that he said NASA will announce the new date for the Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) launch “in about a week.”  Others have been saying only that the eagerly awaited announcement will happen “soon.”

EM-1 is the first flight of NASA’s new Space Launch System (SLS) carrying an uncrewed Orion capsule (the first flight with a crew is EM-2 and NASA hopes to launch it no later than 2023).  NASA conceded earlier this year that the EM-1 launch would slip from late 2018 to sometime in 2019, but exactly when in 2019 is the question.  Rumors are that it will be December 2019.  Apparently we will know for sure in a week or so.

Lightfoot also talked about the 45-day study NASA is conducting in response to direction from Vice President Mike Pence as chair of the  National Space Council.  Three 45-day studies were initiated at the Council’s first meeting on October 5 for each of the three space sectors: civil, commercial, and national security.  NASA’s charge is to develop “an innovative and sustainable program of exploration with international and commercial partners….”  Pence made it clear the Trump Administration wants to return humans to the surface of the Moon, something the Obama Administration eschewed in favor of focusing on getting people to Mars as quickly as possible.

It’s the World Series — JSC versus JPL (make that the Astros v the Dodgers)

In the spirit of friendly competition, the directors of NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC), located near Houston, TX, and Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), in Pasadena, CA, next door to Los Angeles, have started a “World Series Bragging Rights Duel.” JSC is the home of the astronaut corps, while JPL is renowned for its robotic planetary exploration missions and tracking near earth asteroids.

The Houston Astros and the Los Angeles Dodgers are fighting for the Major League Baseball World Series title and JSC’s Ellen Ochoa and JPL’s Michael Watkins are getting in on the fun.  The joke is that America may have to choose between human “Astros” exploring the solar system or robotic probes as planet or asteroid “dodgers.”

If the Dodgers win, Ochoa will wear a Dodgers T-shirt for a day.  If the Astros win, Watkins will suit up with an Astros T-shirt.

It won’t be much of a sacrifice for either.  Ochoa is a native Californian and Watkins is a University of Texas-Austin alumnus.

It’s all in good humor, but the NASA press release is careful to point out that the two centers actually are “close teammates in expanding our knowledge of the universe and increasing the limits humanity explores.”

You can follow the action on Twitter with the hashtag #OutOfThisWorldSeries.

Ceres — Another Ocean World?

Speaking of JPL, it announced new findings today about the dwarf planet Ceres.  As we reported just last week, Ceres was the first asteroid to be discovered, back in 1801.  It was “promoted” to dwarf planet in 2006.  NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has been orbiting it since 2015 and the  discoveries released today suggest that Ceres may once have had an ocean.  For the past 4 billion years it probably has been “frozen and bound up in the crust,” but “if there is residual liquid underneath, that ocean is not entirely frozen.”  Learn more by clicking on the link in the tweet.

Scientists are especially interested in ocean worlds because life as we know it requires liquid water for survival, so if there’s liquid water, there could be life.

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