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Vote Now! Top Space Stories of the Week - Nov. 20, 2011

The Week in Space News


From a Russian rocket and Chinese space landing to the chances of life on Jupiter's moon Europa and more, it was a busy week in space for astronomers and astronauts.

Vote for your favorite space discovery or mission of the week and relive the week in space here.

Space Station Crew Launches in Snow Storm


A Russian rocket successfully lifted off from snowy Central Asia tonight (Nov. 13), carrying a NASA astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts to the International Space Station.

NASA astronaut Dan Burbank and Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin blasted into orbit aboard a Russian Soyuz TMA-22 spacecraft at 11:14 p.m. EST (10:14 a.m. Baikonour time; 0414 GMT Nov. 14), amid frigid and extremely snowy conditions at the Baikonour Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Despite intense snowfall at the launch site, the winds remained calm, which enabled Russian controllers to proceed with the scheduled liftoff. The astronauts docked at the space station two days later. [Read More]

Chances of Life on Jupiter's Moon? Europa

NASA/Ted Stryk

Europa, Jupiter's icy moon, meets not one but two of the critical requirements for life, scientists say.

For decades, experts have known about the moon's vast underground ocean — a possible home for living organisms — and now a study shows that the ocean regularly receives influxes of the energy required for life via chaotic processes near the moon's surface.Scientists discussed the implications of the new study, which appeared online Wednesday (Nov. 16) in the journal Nature, at an afternoon press briefing at NASA headquarters in Washington. [Read More]

Delta 4 Heavy Rocket to Launch Orion Capsule Test


NASA wants to conduct a 2014 test flight of the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) aboard a Delta 4 Heavy, for which the agency would expect to pay about $370 million, according to Johnson Space Center Director Michael Coats."We'll know by next May whether we're going to be able to find the money to do this and make a commitment," Coats told Space News Nov. 17. He also said the flight would be paid for out of the MPCV budget. "[W]e can't take it out of SLS," he said, referring to the budget for Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket the agency has been directed by Congress to build. [Read More]

Russia Still Trying to Contact Stranded Mars Moon Probe


Russian engineers are still trying to communicate with a wayward Mars moon probe, and they have until early December to fix the spacecraft and send it on its way, according to news reports.

Russia's unmanned Phobos-Grunt spacecraft launched Nov. 8 on a mission to the Martian moon Phobos. The probe reached Earth orbit as planned, but its thrusters never fired to propel it toward the Red Planet. While all attempts to contact Phobos-Grunt since then have failed, the mission team hasn't given up hope, according to Russian news service Ria Novosti.

"We estimate that the Phobos-Grunt will fly until January, and to make it perform its mission we still have time until the beginning of December," said Vladimir Popovkin, head of Russia's Federal Space Agency (known as Roscosmos), according to Ria Novosti. [Read More]

Chinese Space Capsule Lands After Docking Test


China's Shenzhou 8 spacecraft, the first Chinese vehicle to conduct a space docking, returned to Earth Thursday (Nov. 17) after a successful mission.The spacecraft was an unmanned version of the ship that carries Chinese astronauts (known as taikonauts) to space. It landed in Inner Mongolia after 18 days in space. A search and recovery team was deployed to collect the vehicle.This screenshot of a CNTV Chinese news broadcast shows an infrared view of the unmanned Shenzhou 8 spacecraft as it descends to Earth under its parachute on Nov. 17, 2011. The spacecraft landed in inner Mongolia to end China's first space docking mission.This screenshot of a CNTV Chinese news broadcast shows an infrared view of the unmanned Shenzhou 8 spacecraft as it descends to Earth under its parachute on Nov. 17, 2011. The spacecraft landed in inner Mongolia to end China's first space docking mission.CREDIT: CNTVView full size imageShenzhou 8 began its mission on Oct. 31, launching atop a Chinese Long March 2F rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Inner Mongolia. While in orbit, Shenzhou 8 rendezvoused with China's robotic Tiangong 1 spacecraft, which had launched weeks earlier on Sept. 29. [Read More]

NASA Seeking More Space Travelers


Good news for those who think they've got the right stuff: NASA opened the application process for its next astronaut class today (Nov. 15).

The space agency will accept applications for the next class, which will be the 21st group of spaceflyers in its history, through Jan. 27, 2012, then begin a lengthy and highly competitive screening process. NASA expects to announce its final selections in March 2013, and the newly minted spaceflyers will report to Johnson Space Center in Houston for training that summer, agency officials said. [Read More]

cientists to Congress: Don't Cut Planetary Space Missions


NASA must continue to fund and execute challenging science missions to other worlds, or risk losing leadership in the field of planetary science, agency officials urged lawmakers Tuesday (Nov. 15).

Despite the difficult economic environment, it remains as important as ever to invest in planetary science missions to Mars and beyond, Jim Green, director of NASA' s Planetary Science Division, and Mars scientist Steve Squyres testified today in a hearing before members of a key House space subcommittee.

"The ability to carry out the most challenging tasks in deep space exploration is one of our nation's great scientific and technical crown jewels," Squyres said. "If we give up that capability, then we do a disservice not just to ourselves, but future generations of American scientists, engineers and explorers." [Read More]

Epic Sun Storm Dry Spell Ahead?

Jean-Pierre Brahic

A relatively quiet stretch for the sun in recent years does not necessarily herald an impending solar activity low of historic proportions, a new study reports.The sun was quiescent from 2005 to 2010, spouting off relatively few flares and eruptions of solar plasma known as coronal mass ejections (CMEs). That dry spell lasted about twice as long as usual, prompting some scientists to predict that a "grand minimum" of solar activity — the likes of which hasn't been seen in 300 years — could be on the way.But the opposite could just as easily be true, the study suggests."[A]fter looking at data of past solar activity, we have pointed out that it is just as likely that the sun will go into a grand maximum again (it just came out of one) than into a grand minimum," said study lead author Sami Solanki, of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPISSR) in Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany. [Read More]

U.S. Army Launches Hypersonic Weapon Test Flight

U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command

The U.S. Army hypersonic weapon prototype streaked across the Pacific Ocean at several times the speed of sound today (Nov. 17) in a flawless maiden test flight. The success could pave the way for a new military capability to strike targets anywhere on Earth in as little as an hour.Such a hypersonic weapon concept flies at a relatively flat trajectory within the atmosphere, rather than soaring up toward space like a ballistic missile and eventually coming back down. Hypersonic speed is defined as being at least five times the speed of sound (3,805 mph, or 6,124 kph, at sea level). [Read More]

Is the New Physics Here?


The world's largest atom smasher, designed as a portal to a new view of physics, has produced its first peek at the unexpected: bits of matter that don't mirror the behavior of their antimatter counterparts.

The discovery, if confirmed, could rewrite the known laws of particle physics and help explain why our universe is made mostly of matter and not antimatter.

Scientists at the Large Hadron Collider, the 17-mile (27 km) circular particle accelerator underground near Geneva, Switzerland, have been colliding protons at high speeds to create explosions of energy. From this energy many subatomic particles are produced. [Read More]

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