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20 Aug

Cosmonauts Complete Spacewalk But Most Dangerous EVA Ever Could Lie Ahead

Russian cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev completed a 5-hour, 11-minute spacewalk Monday, launching a Peruvian nanosatellite and installing and retrieving various science experiments from the International Space Station's exterior.

Artemyev shared photos from his second spacewalk on Twitter, including a stunning shot of sunset from outside the ISS:

The tiny Chasqui-1 satellite measures just 4 inches by 4 inches by 4 inches and weighs only 2.2 pounds. According to NASA,

"Shortly after the spacewalk began at 10:02 a.m., Artemyev manually deployed Chasqui 1, a Peruvian nanosatellite designed to take pictures of the Earth with a pair of cameras and transmit the images to a ground station. The project is part of an effort by the National University of Engineering in Peru to gain experience in satellite technology and emerging information and communication technologies."

While spacewalks may seem routine these days, an extra-vehicular activity is still the most dangerous activity an astronaut can do in space... and spacewalks of the future could get even more menacing. Tonight on "Man vs. the Universe" (10/9c), learn about scientists' efforts to stop an asteroid from crashing into Earth. One method calls for catching an impending asteroid in a giant bag, then sending astronauts on the most dangerous spacewalk ever.

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18 Aug

This Is For Everyone Who Asks, "Why Aren't There Stars When Astronauts Take Photos From Space?"

We get this question a lot when we share astronauts' pictures on social media: "Why can't you see any stars in the photos astronauts take from space?"

The fact that there are no visible stars in photos and videos from the moon landing has also fueled some conspiracy theorists' suspicions, though NASA scientists explain that "the camera was unable to capture the light emitted from the stars because the bright sunlight hitting the moon's surface washes out the light from the stars."

That same bright light is the reason many astronauts' photos from the International Space Station appear to show space as pitch black and void of stars, write experts at

"The reason why no or very little stars can be seen is because of the Earth. The Earth, when lit by the Sun, is many thousands times brighter than the stars around it. As a result the Earth is so bright that it swamps out most if not all of the stars."

"The reason that the stars do not show up on the film is that the stars are so dim that the camera cannot gather enough of their light in a short exposure. Our eyes are a lot more sensitive to light than photographic film."

So American astronaut Reid Wiseman's latest space snapshot, taken with a longer exposure, shows that, yes, of course there are stars in space:

Question: Why aren't stars extinct?


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5 Aug

Two Years Ago Today, NASA's Curiosity Rover Landed On Mars

Two years ago today, at 10:32 p.m. PDT, NASA successfully landed its Curiosity rover on Mars. At the time, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden heralded the landing as "an amazing achievement."

"Today, the wheels of Curiosity have begun to blaze the trail for human footprints on Mars. Curiosity, the most sophisticated rover ever built, is now on the surface of the Red Planet, where it will seek to answer age-old questions about whether life ever existed on Mars -- or if the planet can sustain life in the future."


After landing safely, Curiosity sent its first tweet (and photo!) back to Earth:

In just a few years, the Mars 2020 rover will take Red Planet exploration to the next level as it brings high-tech tools -- like the science fiction-esque ability to make oxygen in a carbon dioxide atmosphere -- to space.

Relive the drama of the Mars landing:

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4 Aug

Mars 2020 Rover Takes Red Planet Research To The Next Level

NASA's next generation Mars rover will feature some fancy new instruments to take Red Planet to greater heights.

The Mars 2020 Rover will carry seven new high-tech tools, it was announced Thursday; these instruments were selected from 58 proposals submitted to NASA.

Among the tools is MOXIE (Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment), a machine that will generate oxygen from the carbon dioxide found in Mars' atmosphere.

"It's extremely useful for future production of rocket fuel, or for when humans explore Mars," Mars Exploration Project lead scientist Michael Meyer told Gizmodo. "It's a real step forward in helping future human exploration of Mars, being able to produce oxygen on the surface of Mars."

Mars_2020_roverOther instruments include ground-penetrating radar and Mastcam-Z, "an advanced camera system with panoramic and stereoscopic imaging capability with the ability to zoom."

After sending a congratulatory tweet to the Mars 2020 team, NASA's current Mars rover, Curiosity, checked in Friday from Hidden Valley:

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Image Credit: NASA

23 Jul

NASA Seeks Proposals To Hunt For Alien Life On Jupiter Moon Europa

Screen Shot 2014-07-23 at 11.58.25 AMIf there's life out there, will we find it on Jupiter's icy moon Europa?

NASA recently put out a call for proposals for science instruments to "address fundamental questions about the icy moon and the search for life beyond Earth."

"The possibility of life on Europa is a motivating force for scientists and engineers around the world," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, in a statement. "This solicitation will select instruments which may provide a big leap in our search to answer the question: are we alone in the universe?"

It's believed that Europa has a deep underground ocean that could be capable of sustaining life; a mission to Europa is planned for the 2020s and could cost $1 billion.

About 20 proposals will be selected in April 2015 and $25 million divided among their creators for development.

Tonight, How the Universe Works delves deep into Jupiter's core and in one segment, examines Galileo and the first time NASA dropped a probe into Jupiter's atmosphere:

Watch How the Universe Works TONIGHT at 9/8c on Science Channel

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18 Jul

Where Were You During the Apollo 11 Moon Landing?

Forty-five years ago this weekend, Apollo 11 landed on the moon and humans entered a new era of exploration.

In a video commemorating the anniversary, celebrities, politicians and other prominent figures share their memories of that historic event.

Screen Shot 2014-07-18 at 11.47.43 AM

Years of work -- and a lot of trial and error -- went into creating spacesuits capable of withstanding a trip to the moon.

The final product, which was better than any that came before it, consisted of three separate garments: a water-cooled layer, a pressurized inner suit and a nylon outer layer that provided protection from extreme temperatures.

In this clip from "Moon Machines," step into the factory that developed this suit:

Should America go back to the moon?

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11 Jul

Dry Ice, Not Liquid Water, Formed Gullies On Mars, NASA Says

PIA18400_ipImages taken by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter indicate that dry ice and not liquid water formed gullies on the surface of Mars.

"As recently as five years ago, I thought the gullies on Mars indicated activity of liquid water," said researcher Colin Dundas, of the U.S. Geological Survey, in a statement. "We were able to get many more observations, and as we started to see more activity and pin down the timing of gully formation and change, we saw that the activity is in winter."

Dry ice (frozen carbon dioxide) is abundant on the red planet, NASA says.

According to the new report, "all of the fresh-appearing gullies seen on Mars can be attributed to processes currently underway, whereas earlier hypotheses suggested they formed thousands to millions of years ago when climate conditions were possibly conducive to liquid water on Mars."

This 2013 video from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory demonstrates what happens when dry ice meets sand dunes.

Here's a closer look at the search for signs of water on Mars:

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3 Jul

'Our Flag Was Still There': American Flags Still Flying On Moon

As Americans head into a long weekend in observance of Independence Day, we're remembering the six American flags planted on the moon. But, decades later, are those flags still flying?

A 2012 report from NASA says that despite theories to the contrary, all but one of the flags are still standing:

"Combined with knowledge of the Apollo site maps which show where the flag was erected relative to the Lander, long shadows cast by the flags at three sites  - Apollo 12, Apollo 16, and Apollo 17 - show that the these flags  are still 'flying,' held aloft by the poles."

The flags may not still display the stars and stripes, however:

"All Moon and material experts have no doubt about it: the flags are now completely white. If you leave a flag on Earth for 43 years, it would be almost completely faded. On the Moon, with no atmospheric protection whatsoever, that process happens a lot faster. The stars and stripes disappeared from our Moon flags quite some time ago."

On this Independence Day weekend, here's a look back at the historic moment in 1969 humans first landed on the moon and planted an American flag to mark the moment:

The next Apollo mission, Apollo 12, had adventures of its own before even leaving Earth's orbit -- and things only got stranger once the crew was in space.


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27 Jun

This Is How Astronauts Settle A World Cup Bet

We know that astronauts love the World Cup, just like us, but when there are two Americans and one German living aboard the International Space Station, it's only natural a little light-hearted ribbing will take place.

In the case of Americans Reid Wiseman and Steve Swanson, and German Alexander Gerst, head-shaving was part of a World Cup bet during Thursday's match between the United States and Germany.

After Germany defeated the U.S. 1-0, Gerst shaved his crewmates' heads:

At least Wiseman has a sense of humor about it!

"This is why you shouldn’t make bets," Swanson joked on Instagram.

If the United States had won, the Americans would have painted an American flag on Gerst's bald head.

Hey, at least Gerst used an electric razor and not a straight razor -- yikes!

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26 Jun

Astronauts Love The World Cup, Just Like Us!

MqdefaultLet's say you're living about 200 miles above Earth, moving at a speed of roughly 17,500 miles an hour. The view can't be beat but it's World Cup season and your team has a big game. What's an astronaut to do?

Americans Reid Wiseman and Steve Swanson, and German Alexander Gerst, are looking forward to today's USA vs. Germany match, and they've already indulged in some friendly taunting.

"I believe we will win," Wiseman told ESPN. "It’s two against one up here, so I think the U.S. chances are pretty good."

But will they be able to watch live?  Maybe.

According to NASA, "the crew already is checking its busy schedule for Thursday to see how they can fit in watching the game during what will be afternoon time for them."

How busy?

Our friends at DNews looked into the question, "How do astronauts watch the World Cup in space?"

NASA told DNews that the final match of the World Cup falls on a Sunday, during off-duty hours, so the astronauts "might choose to watch some of the game live."

If the World Cup isn't your thing, how about the RoboCup?

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