Category Archives: NASA

Artemis Phase 1 Explained

NASA is serious about returning to the moon. Here we have NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine explains how Phase 1 of the Artemis mission to the moon might work.

We’ll see how the political landscape changes over the next few years to see if this becomes reality. Don’t get me wrong I hope it does.

Want to Help NASA?

NASA: Citizen scientists assemble! NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission to the asteroid Bennu needs extra pairs of eyes to help choose its sample collection site on the asteroid – and to look for anything else that might be scientifically interesting. 

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has been at Bennu since Dec. 3, 2018, mapping the asteroid in detail, while the mission team searches for a sample collection site that is safe, conducive to sample collection and worthy of closer study. One of the biggest challenges of this effort, which the team discovered after arriving at the asteroid five months ago, is that Bennu has an extremely rocky surface and each boulder presents a danger to the spacecraft’s safety. To expedite the sample selection process, the team is asking citizen scientist volunteers to develop a hazard map by counting boulders. 

“For the safety of the spacecraft, the mission team needs a comprehensive catalog of all the boulders near the potential sample collection sites, and I invite members of the public to assist the OSIRIS-REx mission team in accomplishing this essential task,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson.

For this effort, NASA is partnering with CosmoQuest, a project run out of the Planetary Science Institute that supports citizen science initiatives. Volunteers will perform the same tasks that planetary scientists do – measuring Bennu’s boulders and mapping its rocks and craters – through the use of a simple web interface. They will also mark other scientifically interesting features on the asteroid for further investigation.

The boulder mapping work involves a high degree of precision, but it is not difficult. The CosmoQuest mapping app requires a computer with a larger screen and a mouse or trackpad capable of making precise marks. To help volunteers get started, the CosmoQuest team provides an interactive tutorial, as well as additional user assistance through a Discord community and livestreaming sessions on Twitch. 

“We are very pleased and excited to make OSIRIS-REx images available for this important citizen science endeavor,” said Rich Burns, OSIRIS-REx project manager at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. “Bennu has surprised us with an abundance of boulders. We ask for citizen scientists’ help to evaluate this rugged terrain so that we can keep our spacecraft safe during sample collection operations.”

Sample return isn’t new for NASA – this year, the agency is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo missions to the Moon, which allowed astronauts to bring back 842 pounds (382 kilograms) of rocks and lunar soil. Those samples helped scientists discover that the Moon has water locked in its rocks and even permanently frozen in craters. These findings and others inspired the agency to create the Artemis program to return humans to the Moon by 2024 and start preparing for human exploration on Mars.

“The OSIRIS-REx mission will continue the Apollo legacy by giving scientists precious samples of an asteroid,” said Lori Glaze, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “These samples will help scientists discover the secrets of planetary formation and the origins of our planet Earth.”

The Bennu mapping campaign continues through July 10, when the mission begins the sample site selection process. Once primary and secondary sites are selected, the spacecraft will begin closer reconnaissance to map the two sites to sub-centimeter resolution. The mission’s Touch-and-Go (TAG) sampling maneuver is scheduled for July 2020, and the spacecraft will return to Earth with its cargo in September 2023.

Goddard provides overall mission management, systems engineering, and the safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, Tucson, is the principal investigator, and the University of Arizona also leads the science team and the mission’s science observation planning and data processing. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver built the spacecraft and is providing flight operations. Goddard and KinetX Aerospace are responsible for navigating the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program, which is managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

To volunteer as a Bennu mapper, visit:

Phobos Temperatures

The surprising (to me at least) findings from temperature observations of the Martian moon Phobos. The infrared signatures seem to shows the moon appears to get warm it is at times. I’m sure the warmth may be fleeting the but we are talking about nice warm and therefore comfortable summer temperatures for most of us here on Earth.

NASA’s caption: These are three different views of the Martian moon Phobos, as seen by NASA’s 2001 Mars Odyssey orbiter using its infrared camera, Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS). Each color represents a different temperature range.

The annotated version of this image labels each of these views with the dates when they were imaged by THEMIS. The two views on the left were taken while Phobos was in a half-moon phase, which is better for studying surface textures. The third, on the far-right, was taken in a full-moon phase, which is better for studying material composition.

A scale bar on the annotated image ranges from 150 to 300 degrees Kelvin, or -190 degrees Fahrenheit (-123 degrees Celsius) to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius).

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, manages the 2001 Mars Odyssey mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. THEMIS was developed by Arizona State University in Tempe, in collaboration with Raytheon Santa Barbara Remote Sensing.

The THEMIS investigation is led by Philip Christensen at ASU. The prime contractor for the Odyssey project, Lockheed Martin Space in Denver, developed and built the orbiter. Mission operations are conducted jointly from Lockheed Martin and from JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena.Image Credit:NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/SSI

NEOWISE Looks at Comet Iwamoto

Comet C/2018 Y1 Iwamoto as imaged in multiple exposures of infrared light by the NEOWISE space telescope. The infrared images were taken on Feb. 25, 2019, when the comet was about 56 million miles, or 90 million kilometers, from Earth. C/2018 Y1 Iwamoto is a long-period comet originally from the Oort Cloud and coming in near the Sun for the first time in over 1,000 years.

Appearing as a string of red dots, this comet can be seen in a series of exposures captured by the spacecraft. Infrared light detected by the 3.4-micron channel is mapped to blue and green, while light from the 4.6-micron channel is mapped to red. In this image, stars show up as blue because they are hotter, whereas the cooler dust around the comet – with a temperature near the freezing point of water – glows red.

JPL manages NEOWISE for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. The Space Dynamics Laboratory in Logan, Utah, built the science instrument. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. of Boulder, Colorado, built the spacecraft. Science operations and data processing take place at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

For more information about NEOWISE, visit

More information about asteroids and near-Earth objects is at

There is also an animation that was released with the image — have a look here.

Image (and animation) Credit:NASA/JPL-Caltech

The View in Front of InSight

Here’s a look from the Instrument Context Camera (ICC) looking towards the front of the InSight Lander on Mars.

The foot-pads of the lander seem to be pressed well into the Martian soil which has several small rocks scattered about. The rocks are in the subsoil as well and there could be such rocks blocking the “mole”, the probe that hammers itself into the ground to take thermal conductivity tests.

The mole hit some obstruction shortly after it began and has been stopped. There is a plan forward, the team was going to command a 10 or 15 minute hammering session to see if they can get through. They also were also to take a thermal conductivity reading, a 24 hour test, the results of which might be downloaded today (?). There have been no updates on either of these as yet.


Bennu Close Up

Here’s a close up of the asteroid Bennu. The image is from NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft (caption below). You will get a larger version by clicking the image above, however, I encourage you to go to the main image on the NASA page and click that one, it is huge and the detail is amazing. Keep in mind I try to keep the image file size reasonable so people with slower connections don’t have to wait too long and that image is a lot larger in terms of file size – but it’s really good.

NASA: This trio of images acquired by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft shows a wide shot and two close-ups of a region in asteroid Bennu’s northern hemisphere. The wide-angle image (left), obtained by the spacecraft’s MapCam camera, shows a 590-foot (180-meter) wide area with many rocks, including some large boulders, and a “pond” of regolith that is mostly devoid of large rocks. The two closer images, obtained by the high-resolution PolyCam camera, show details of areas in the MapCam image, specifically a 50-foot (15 meter) boulder (top) and the regolith pond (bottom). The PolyCam frames are 101 feet (31 meters) across and the boulder depicted is approximately the same size as a humpback whale.

The images were taken on February 25 while the spacecraft was in orbit around Bennu, approximately 1.1 miles (1.8 km) from the asteroid’s surface. The observation plan for this day provided for one MapCam and two PolyCam images every 10 minutes, allowing for this combination of context and detail of Bennu’s surface.

Credit:  NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

Continuing Science

In a great example of studying data we already have NASA has selected teams to study actual physical evidence, moon rocks, from the Apollo missions. Thanks to judicious use of these samples to-date there is enough to use and hopefully more for the future when technology and methods continue to improve in order to gain the most we can. Someday we might replenish our stocks.

The image above is Harrison Schmitt collecting samples at Station 1 during the last of the Apollo mission to the moon. Schmitt as the pilot of the Lunar Module, part of a crew which included Commander Eugene Cernan and Command Module Pilot Ronald Evans. Image credit: NASA/Eugene A. Cernan.

Here’s the story from NASA: NASA has selected nine teams to continue the science legacy of the Apollo missions by studying pieces of the Moon that have been carefully stored and untouched for nearly 50 years. A total of $8 million has been awarded to the teams.

“By studying these precious lunar samples for the first time, a new generation of scientists will help advance our understanding of our lunar neighbor and prepare for the next era of exploration of the Moon and beyond, “ said Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, DC. “This exploration will bring with it new and unique samples into the best labs right here on Earth.”

Six of the nine teams will look at one of the three remaining lunar samples, from Apollo missions 15, 16, and 17, which have never been exposed to Earth’s atmosphere. The particular sample these teams will study came to Earth vacuum-sealed on the Moon by the Apollo 17 astronauts Harrison Schmitt and Gene Cernan in 1972. 

The Apollo 17 sample comprises about 800 grams (1.8 pounds) of material, still encased in a “drive tube” that was pounded into the lunar regolith to collect a core of material. That core preserves not just the rocks themselves but also the stratigraphy from below the surface so today’s scientists can, in a laboratory, study the rock layers exactly as they existed on the Moon. The core has been carefully stored at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, since December 1972. 

Other teams will be studying samples that have also been specially curated, some from Apollo 17 that were brought to Earth and then kept frozen, and samples from the Apollo 15 mission which have been stored in helium since 1971.

NASA has only collected samples from a few places on the Moon so far, but NASA knows from the remote sensing data that the Moon is a complex geologic body. From orbit, the agency has identified types of rocks and minerals that are not present in the Apollo sample collection.  

“Returned samples are an investment in the future. These samples were deliberately saved so we can take advantage of today’s more advanced and sophisticated technology to answer questions we didn’t know we needed to ask,” said Lori Glaze, acting director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division in Washington, DC. 

The nine institutions include:

NASA Ames Research Center/Bay Area Environmental Research Institute: A team led by Alexander Sehlke will complete an experiment started 50 years ago by studying the frozen lunar samples from Apollo 17 to see how volatiles like water are stored in the radiation environment of the lunar surface, which is not protected by an atmosphere like Earth. 

NASA Ames – A team led by David Blake and Richard Walrothwill study the vacuum-sealed sample to study “space weathering” or how exposure to the space environment affects the Moon’s surface. 

NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center: A team led by Jamie Elsila Cook will study the vacuumed-sealed sample to better understand how small organic molecules—namely, precursors to amino acids—are preserved on the Moon. 

NASA Goddard: A team led by Barbara Cohen and Natalie Curran will study the vacuum-sealed sample to investigate the geologic history of the Apollo 17 site. They’ll specifically be looking at the abundance of noble gases in the sample, which can tell them about the sample’s age. 

University of Arizona:A team led by Jessica Barnes will study how curation affects the amount of hydrogen-bearing minerals in lunar soil, which will help us better understand how water is locked in minerals on the Moon. 

University of California Berkeley: A team led by Kees Welten will study how micrometeorite and meteorite impacts may have affected the geology of the lunar surface.

US Naval Research Laboratory. A team led by Katherine Burgess will look at the frozen samples and the samples stored in helium to study how airless bodies are affected by exposure to the space environment. 

University of New Mexico: A team led by Chip Shearer will look at the vacuum-sealed sample to study the geologic history of the Apollo 17 site. They will be studying samples from a region that had been cold enough for water to freeze—called a “cold trap.” This will be the first time a sample from one of these cold traps will be examined in the lab.

Mount Holyoke College/Planetary Science Institute: A team led by Darby Dyar will look at both the vacuum-sealed samples and samples stored on helium to study volcanic activity on the Moon. They’ll specifically look at tiny glass beads that formed rapidly during an ancient lunar eruption.

The samples won’t be opened right away. First, the teams will work together and with the curation staff at NASA Johnson to determine the best way to open the sample to avoid contaminating them and maximize the science to be gained.

The teams for the Apollo Next-Generation Sample Analysis grants were selected by the Planetary Science Division and will be funded by the Lunar Discovery and Exploration Program. 

Water Movement on the Moon?

The image is our moon, this is the far-side unseen from Earth courtesy of NASA and Arizona State University.

Water movement on the moon?

NASA — Scientists, using an instrument aboard NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), have observed water molecules moving around the dayside of the Moon.

A paper published in Geophysical Research Letters describes how Lyman Alpha Mapping Project (LAMP) measurements of the sparse layer of molecules temporarily stuck to the surface helped characterize lunar hydration changes over the course of a day.

Up until the last decade or so, scientists thought the Moon was arid, with any water existing mainly as pockets of ice in permanently shaded craters near the poles. More recently, scientists have identified surface water in sparse populations of molecules bound to the lunar soil, or regolith. The amount and locations vary based on the time of day. This water is more common at higher latitudes and tends to hop around as the surface heats up.

“This is an important new result about lunar water, a hot topic as our nation’s space program returns to a focus on lunar exploration,” said Dr. Kurt Retherford, the principal investigator of the LAMP instrument from Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas. “We recently converted the LAMP’s light collection mode to measure reflected signals on the lunar dayside with more precision, allowing us to track more accurately where the water is and how much is present.”

Water molecules remain tightly bound to the regolith until surface temperatures peak near lunar noon. Then, molecules thermally desorb and can bounce to a nearby location that is cold enough for the molecule to stick or populate the Moon’s extremely tenuous atmosphere or exosphere, until temperatures drop and the molecules return to the surface. SwRI’s Dr. Michael Poston, now a research scientist on the LAMP team, had previously conducted extensive experiments with water and lunar samples collected by the Apollo missions. This research revealed the amount of energy needed to remove water molecules from lunar materials, helping scientists understand how water is bound to surface materials.

“Lunar hydration is tricky to measure from orbit, due to the complex way that light reflects off of the lunar surface,” Poston said. “Previous research reported quantities of hopping water molecules that were too large to explain with known physical processes. I’m excited about these latest results because the amount of water interpreted here is consistent with what lab measurements indicate is possible.

Scientists have hypothesized that hydrogen ions in the solar wind may be the source of most of the Moon’s surface water. With that in mind, when the Moon passes behind the Earth and is shielded from the solar wind, the “water spigot” should essentially turn off. However, the water observed by LAMP does not decrease when the Moon is shielded by the Earth and the region influenced by its magnetic field, suggesting water builds up over time, rather than “raining” down directly from the solar wind.

“These results aid in understanding the lunar water cycle and will ultimately help us learn about accessibility of water that can be used by humans in future missions to the Moon,” said Amanda Hendrix, a senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute and lead author of the paper. “Lunar water can potentially be used by humans to make fuel or to use for radiation shielding or thermal management; if these materials do not need to be launched from Earth, that makes these future missions more affordable.”

“This result is an important step in advancing the water story on the Moon and is a result of years of accumulated data from the LRO mission,” said John Keller, LRO deputy project scientist from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Goddard manages the LRO mission for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. Funding for the research came from LRO, and the team received additional support from a NASA Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI) cooperative agreement.

NASA is leading a sustainable return to the Moon with commercial and international partners to expand human presence in space and bring back new knowledge and opportunities.

For more information on LRO, visit:

InSight’s Mole Stopped

The InSight lander has started to deploy the probe it is to hammer into the planet but has run into a problem. It sounds like the probe only managed to get about 30 cm / 11 in before it stopped.

Hopefully the mission team can get it a bit deeper, best not take any chances yet and of course they are not.

NASA — NASA’s Mars InSight lander has a probe designed to dig up to 16 feet (5 meters) below the surface and measure heat coming from inside the planet. After beginning to hammer itself into the soil on Thursday, Feb. 28, the 16-inch-long (40-centimeter-long) probe — part of an instrument called the Heat and Physical Properties Package, or HP3 — got about three-fourths of the way out of its housing structure before stopping. No significant progress was seen after a second bout of hammering on Saturday, March 2. Data suggests the probe, known as a “mole,” is at a 15-degree tilt.

Scientists suspect it hit a rock or some gravel. The team had hoped there would be relatively few rocks below ground, given how few appear on the surface beside the lander. Even so, the mole was designed to push small rocks aside or wend its way around them. The instrument, which was provided for InSight by the German Aerospace Center (DLR), did so repeatedly during testing before InSight launched.

“The team has decided to pause the hammering for now to allow the situation to be analyzed more closely and jointly come up with strategies for overcoming the obstacle,” HPPrincipal Investigator Tilman Spohn of DLR wrote in a blog post. He added that the team wants to hold off from further hammering for about two weeks.

Data show that the probe itself continues to function as expected: After heating by 50 degrees Fahrenheit (28 degrees Celsius), it measures how quickly that heat dissipates in the soil. This property, known as thermal conductivity, helps calibrate sensors embedded in a tether trailing from the back of the mole. Once the mole is deep enough, these tether sensors can measure Mars’ natural heat coming from inside the planet, which is generated by radioactive materials decaying and energy left over from Mars’ formation.

The team will be conducting further heating tests this week to measure the thermal conductivity of the upper surface. They will also use a radiometer on InSight’s deck to measure temperature changes on the surface. Mars’ moon Phobos will pass in front of the Sun several times this week; like a cloud passing overhead, the eclipse will darken and cool the ground around InSight.

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/DLR