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This year NASA's Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) has selected a dozen new-fangled ideas that could lead to revolutionary changes in the way we explore the near and far solar system. Among these advanced concepts was a proposal headed up by Dr. Gerald A. Smith, of Positronics Research LLC, Santa Fe, N.M. whose "Positron-propelled and Powered Space Transport Vehicle for Planetary Missions" could lead to the kind of high-efficiency propulsion systems needed to get there and back without having to cart vast quantities of chemically-based fuel and oxidizer along for the ride.
University of Chicago researcher Nicolas Dauphas has developed a new method to calculate the age of the Milky Way by measuring two long-lived radioactive elements in meteorites. By calculating the amount of uranium-238 and thorium-232, Dauphas determined that the Milky Way is approximately 14.5 billion years old, give or take 2 billion. This is a close match for the age of the Universe, calculated to be 13.7 billion years by NASA's WMAP spacecraft. This means that it probably didn't take much time after the Big Bang for large structures, such as the Milky Way, to form.
The European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft has captured its first photograph of Comet 9P/Tempel 1, Deep Impact's target. Rosetta is quite distant, so Tempel 1 is at the very limits of its detection abilities. The spacecraft will help analyze the gas, ice and debris that spew off of Comet Tempel 1 when Deep Impact smashes into it on July 4. This is just a job on the side, though, as Rosetta has a date with its own comet, 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, in 10 years from now.
How many times have I been to space? Well, I lost count at, oh, none. So I, and nearly every other human being on Earth can't compare with Story Musgrave, a legendary NASA Astronaut who flew on the Space Shuttle six times, including leading the team that fixed the Hubble Space Telescope's vision in 1993. He's the subject of a recent biography called Story: the Way of Water, and has a new CD called Cosmic Fireflies, which sets his space inspired poetry to music. Story speaks to me from his home in Florida.
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