NASA Technology Enables Precision Landing Without a Pilot

The New Shepard (NS) booster lands after this vehicle’s fifth flight during NS-11 May 2, 2019. (Credits: Blue Origin)

by Margo Pierce
NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate

Some of the most interesting places to study in our solar system are found in the most inhospitable environments – but landing on any planetary body is already a risky proposition. With NASA planning robotic and crewed missions to new locations on the Moon and Mars, avoiding landing on the steep slope of a crater or in a boulder field is critical to helping ensure a safe touch down for surface exploration of other worlds. In order to improve landing safety, NASA is developing and testing a suite of precise landing and hazard-avoidance technologies.

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Top 5 Times Solar Activity Affected Earth

The Sun sends out a constant stream of particles and energy, which drives a complex space weather system near Earth and can affect spacecraft and astronauts. NASA has chosen five new mission concept studies for further development to study various aspects of this dynamic system. (Credits: NASA)

SILVER SPRING, Md. (NOAA PR) — Over the course of the Sun’s 11-year solar cycle, the star goes through a period of increased and decreased activity. When this activity ramps up, sometimes phenomena such as solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs), where massive amounts of radiation and solar particles erupt out from the Sun’s surface, can wreak havoc if our planet happens to be in the way of the blast.

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Laser Beams Reflected Between Earth and Moon Boost Science

This photograph shows the laser-ranging facility at the Goddard Geophysical and Astronomical Observatory in Greenbelt, Md. The facility helps NASA keep track of orbiting satellites. Both beams shown, coming from two different lasers, are pointed at NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which is orbiting the Moon. (Credits: NASA)

by Lonnie Shekhtman
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

GREENBELT, Md. — Dozens of times over the last decade NASA scientists have launched laser beams at a reflector the size of a paperback novel about 240,000 miles (385,000 kilometers) away from Earth. They announced today, in collaboration with their French colleagues, that they received signal back for the first time, an encouraging result that could enhance laser experiments used to study the physics of the universe.

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6 Technologies NASA is Advancing to Send Humans to Mars

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — Mars is an obvious source of inspiration for science fiction stories. It is familiar and well-studied, yet different and far enough away to compel otherworldly adventures. NASA has its sights on the Red Planet for many of the same reasons.

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NASA Awards Small Business Contracts to Manage Lunar Dust

Apollo 17 spacesuits and helmets were covered in abrasive lunar dust after three days of exploring the moon. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Lunar dust feels like fine snow, is strangely abrasive, and smells like burnt gun powder when exposed to oxygen.

It was a minor annoyance during the Apollo missions, which lasted a maximum of three days. Now that NASA is planning to send astronauts back to the moon to stay in the Artemis program, the space agency is looking for ways to control lunar dust so it doesn’t clog up spacesuits, spacecraft and habitats.

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Yutu 2 Reveals Possible Causes of Unknown Gelatinous Substance on Moon

Yutu-2 lunar rover near an impact crater. (Credit: China National Space Administration)

BEIJING (China National Space Administration PR) — Since landing on the back of the moon, the Chang’e 4 lander and the Yutu-2 lunar rover have been operating successfully for more than 500 days, and have achieved many results in the scientific fields such as the material composition and underground structure of the landing zone.

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Space Exploration in a Time of Social Turmoil

The Expedition 63 crew welcomes Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station. (Credits: NASA/Bill Stafford)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The contrast was jarring. In one browser window, two NASA astronauts were making their way to the International Space Station (ISS) after the first orbital launch of a crew from U.S. soil in nearly 9 years.

In another window, scenes of chaos played out as protests over the death of George Floyd after his arrest by Minneapolis police erupted into violent clashes across the country.

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Book Catalogs Four Decades of Human Lunar Lander Concepts

“After LM – NASA Lunar Lander Concepts Beyond Apollo,” from the desk of author John Connolly. (Credits: NASA/John Connolly)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — A NASA-published volume traces the history of human  lunar lander concepts  developed since  Apollo’s Lunar Module (LM). After LM – NASA Lunar Lander Concepts Beyond Apollo tells the story of physics, technology, and the desire to return humans to the lunar surface through technical descriptions,  imagery and  subsystem mass breakouts of more than 100 lunar lander concepts created by NASA and its contractors since the Apollo program.

The concepts are grouped by the human exploration timelines that defined the post-Apollo period, starting  post-Apollo and continuing through the Space Exploration Initiative and the Vision for Space Exploration, and concluding with the many lander designs created to support NASA’s Constellation program. Readers will see the common “trades” that are explored in crewed landing systems, including  propellant types, pressurized volumes, structural mass fractions, mass margins, crew size, and special accommodations for ergonomics and other human factors.

Author John Connolly has spent 33 years at NASA, primarily leading development of lunar surface systems, including landers. “I think this compilation illustrates how, when a crewed lunar lander is stripped down to its most basic functions, its form ultimately responds to fundamental physics and human factors,” Connolly said. “With a nod to science fiction, of course.”   

The 277-page After LM – NASA Lunar Lander Concepts Beyond Apollo is free to the public and available for download on NASA’s Technical Reports Server: https://ntrs.nasa.gov/search.jsp?R=20190031985

NASA Scientists Tapped to Mature More Rugged Seismometer System to Measure Moonquakes

A next-generation seismometer could be deployed autonomously, unlike the systems deployed in the past. In this photo, Apollo 12 astronaut Alan Bean carries the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package to its deployment site on the Moon. (Credits: NASA)

GREENBELT, Md. (NASA PR) — NASA hasn’t measured moonquakes since Apollo astronauts deployed a handful of measuring stations at various locations on the lunar surface and discovered unexpectedly that Earth’s only natural satellite was far from seismically inactive.

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House Science Committee Leaders Johnson, Horn Criticize NASA Human Landing System Awards

Eddie Bernice Johnson

WASHINGTON, May 1, 2020 (House Science Committee PR) — Yesterday, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced that Blue Origin, Dynetics, and SpaceX have been awarded contracts to design and develop Artemis program human landing systems, one of which NASA plans to use for a 2024 lunar landing.

“I am troubled that NASA has decided to ignore congressional intent and instead press forward with Human Landing System awards to try to meet an arbitrary 2024 lunar landing deadline,” said Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX). “As the Apollo program showed us, getting to the Moon and back safely is hard. The multi-year delays and difficulties experienced by the companies of NASA’s taxpayer-funded Commercial Crew program—a program with the far less ambitious goal of just getting NASA astronauts back to low Earth orbit—make clear to me that we should not be trying to privatize America’s Moon-Mars program, especially when at the end of the day American taxpayers—not the private companies—are going to wind up paying the lion’s share of the costs. I want our Nation to pursue the inspiring goals of returning to the Moon and then heading to Mars, but we need to do it sensibly and safely while we also protect the interests of the tax paying public.”

“America’s human space exploration program has inspired generations and led to discovery, development, and innovation,” said Chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics, Rep. Kendra Horn (D-OK). “Returning humans to the Moon safely is an important and worthy endeavor for our nation. It is also a challenging one that requires significant investment of taxpayer dollars to achieve. I was disappointed to see that NASA’s decision on lunar landing systems development starkly contrasts the bipartisan House NASA Authorization bill and the advice of experts on minimizing risk and ensuring the highest likelihood of success in landing humans on the Moon.”

“Unfortunately, more than a year after their announcement to accelerate the Artemis program, NASA has yet to provide Congress a transparent architecture and technical and cost assessment, despite our repeated requests. The American taxpayer deserves to know their money is being spent wisely, especially if they are being asked to invest billions of taxpayer dollars in a private lunar landing system. Our nation should dream boldly and pursue aspirational goals but we have to do so thoughtfully and intentionally. I look forward to working with NASA in good faith to steer our nation’s space program in a direction that allows our country to achieve inspiring goals and explore space in a responsible and measured way.”

ESA Helps Analyse Untouched Moon Rocks

The Moon seen from the International Space Station. The image was taken by ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli during his second mission to ‘MagISStra’ on 20 March 2011. Paolo commented on the image: “Supermoon was spectacular from here!” (Credit: ESA/NASA)

HOUSTON (ESA PR) — Almost 50 years after the Apollo missions returned lunar material to Earth, ESA experts are helping to uncover the secrets of two previously unopened samples to learn more about ancient processes on the Moon – and to refine and practice techniques for future sample return missions.

With one sample already being analysed, preparations are now being made to open the second later this year. 

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Masten Wins NASA Funding to Develop Instant Landing Pads on the Moon

How FAST Landing Pad would be deployed during a mission. (Credits: Matthew Kuhns)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA has provided funding to Masten Space Systems to begin development of instant landing pads for the vehicles that will carry astronauts to the lunar surface in the space agency’s Artemis program.

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When the Moon Dust Settles, It Won’t Settle in VIPER’s Wheels

Robotics engineer Jason Schuler performs a preliminary test to prepare for dust testing of various seals for the wheel motors on NASA’s Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, or VIPER, March 17, 2020, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The test takes place in a bin holding more than 120 tons of simulated lunar regolith – loose dirt, dust and rock – that is used to help simulate the properties of the lunar surface. (Credits: NASA)

MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. (NASA PR) — Moon dust is a formidable adversary – the grains are as fine as powder and as sharp as tiny shards of glass. During the Apollo 17 mission to the Moon, the astronauts lamented how the dust found its way into everything, coating their spacesuits and jamming the shoulder joints, getting inside their lunar habitat and even causing symptoms of a temporary “lunar dust hay fever” in astronaut Harrison Schmitt. Those symptoms fortunately went away quickly – but the problem of Moon dust remains for future missions.

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NASA Commemorates 50th Anniversary of Apollo 13, ‘A Successful Failure’

The crew members of the Apollo 13 mission, step aboard the USS Iwo Jima, prime recovery ship for the mission, following splashdown and recovery operations in the South Pacific Ocean on April 19, 1970. Exiting the helicopter are (from left) astronauts Fred W. Haise Jr., lunar module pilot; James A. Lovell Jr., commander; and John L. Swigert Jr., command module pilot. (Credits: NASA)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — As NASA marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 13 mission – which has become known as “a successful failure” that saw the safe return of its crew in spite of a catastrophic explosion – the agency is sharing a variety of resources, recognizing the triumph of the mission control team and the astronauts, and looking at how those lessons learned can be applied to its lunar Artemis program.

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NASA Remembers Apollo 15 Astronaut Al Worden

Astronaut Al Worden

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — Former astronaut Alfred M. Worden, command module pilot on the Apollo 15 lunar landing, passed away March 18, 2020, in Texas.

“I’m deeply saddened to hear that Apollo astronaut Al Worden has passed away,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine tweeted about Worden. “Al was an American hero whose achievements in space and on Earth will never be forgotten. My prayers are with his family and friends.”

NASA Administrator’s Statement on the Passing of Alfred M. Worden

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