MoonWatcher Launches Kickstarter Campaign

The moon rising over Half Moon Bay, California on Halloween 2009. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (MoonWatcher PR) — Imagine seeing the Moon as only astronauts have seen it before. Now with MoonWatcher, the FIRST private satellite mounted with a state of the art camera, you will have this amazing opportunity.

Spectacular images of the Moon will stream LIVE to the Internet with accompanying information and featuring the latest lunar news. To accelerate the path to orbit, today MoonWatcher announced a crowdfunding Kickstarter campaign to raise $150K. MoonWatcher will be putting these Kickstarter pledges towards their first satellite, which will be carried by Virgin Galactic’s LauncherOne into Low Earth Orbit (LEO) in 2018.

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Congressmen Call for Clear NASA Strategy for Putting Humans on Mars


Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) have filed bills calling for NASA to develop a clear strategy for placing astronauts on Mars.

The Mapping a New and Innovative Focus on our Exploration Strategy (MANIFEST) for Human Spaceflight Act of 2017 calls for the space agency to accomplish this goal “through a series of successive, sustainable, free-standing, but complementary missions making robust utilization of cis-lunar space and employing the Space Launch System, Orion crew capsule, and other capabilities.”

The cis-lunar elements include the expansion of human presence into lunar orbit, lunar surface, asteroids, the moons of Mars, and the martian surface. The plan must include opportunities for collaboration with international partners, private companies and other federal agencies.

The strategy would identify how the International Space Station could support the program, and include “a range of exploration mission architectures and approaches for the missions…including capabilities for the Orion crew capsule and the Space Launch System.”

Fred Bourgeois of Team FREDNET Passes Away

The moon rising over Half Moon Bay. (Credit: Douglas Messier)
The moon rising over Half Moon Bay. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

Some sad news that I’ve only just now become aware of: Fred J. Bourgeois, the founder of Team FREDNET that was competing for the Google Lunar X Prize, passed away last month after a battle with cancer. He ran the team open source, as he explained in a summary of it:

Team FREDNET, The Open Space Society (TFX) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit research and education foundation working to improve access to Space utilizing Open Source systems and methods. Our goal is to create an Open Catalog of Spacecraft and Space Mission components which creates standards that allow for cost reductions and thereby enables better and faster access to the resources of the Final Frontier.

I met Fred a couple of times at conferences and had a chance to chat with him a bit. He was a nice guy who was dedicated to opening up space. Yet another sad loss of 2016, a year that took so many good people.

Rest in peace, Fred.

Google Lunar X Prize Down to Five Teams

GOES-16 captured this view of the moon as it looked above the surface of the Earth on January 15. Like earlier GOES satellites, GOES-16 will use the moon for calibration. (Credits: NOAA/NASA)
GOES-16 captured this view of the moon as it looked above the surface of the Earth on January 15. Like earlier GOES satellites, GOES-16 will use the moon for calibration. (Credits: NOAA/ NASA)

After 10 years, the Google Lunar X Prize is down to five finalists. The survivors include:

  • Hakuto (Japan)
  • Moon Express (USA)
  • SpaceIL (Israel)
  • Synergy Moon (International)
  • Team Indus (India)

The teams have until the end of this year to launch a vehicle to the moon. The vehicle must travel 500 meters across the lunar surface and return high-definition video.

There is a $20 million prize for the first team to accomplish this goal. The second prize is worth $5 million.

NASA to Cover Gene Cernan’s Funeral Today

Eugene Cernan
Eugene Cernan

NASA Television will provide the pool coverage of the funeral service for NASA astronaut and U.S. Navy Capt. Eugene A. Cernan at 3:30 p.m. EST (2:30 p.m. CST) on Tuesday, Jan. 24, live from St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston.

Media cameras will not be permitted in the church, however, there will be a designated media area outside. Please note, there will be no interviews with special guests.

Cernan left his mark on the history of exploration by flying three times in space, twice to the moon. He also holds the distinction of being the second American to walk in space and the last human to leave his footprints on the lunar surface.

For more information about Cernan’s life and legacy, visit:

https://www.nasa.gov/cernan

For NASA TV streaming video, schedule and downlink information, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/nasatv

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With Cernan’s Passing, America Has Lost Half its Moon Walkers

apollo-11
With the passing of Eugene Cernan on Monday, America has lost half of the 12 Apollo astronauts who walked on the moon between 1969 and 1972. All the surviving astronauts from the Apollo lunar program are in their 80’s.

Cernan, 82, was the last man to step off the moon during the Apollo 17 mission in December 1972. He and Harrison “Jack” Schmitt spent three days on the lunar surface while command module pilot Ronald Evans orbited overhead.

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NASA Administrator Reflects on Legacy of Gene Cernan

Gene Cernan in t he lunar module Challenger during Apollo 17. (Credit: NASA)
Gene Cernan in t he lunar module Challenger during Apollo 17. (Credit: NASA)

The following is a statement from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on the passing of Gemini and Apollo astronaut Gene Cernan:

“Gene Cernan, Apollo astronaut and the last man to walk on the moon, has passed from our sphere, and we mourn his loss. Leaving the moon in 1972, Cernan said, ‘As I take these last steps from the surface for some time into the future to come, I’d just like to record that America’s challenge of today has forged man’s destiny of tomorrow.’ Truly, America has lost a patriot and pioneer who helped shape our country’s bold ambitions to do things that humankind had never before achieved.

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Last Man on the Moon Gene Cernan Passes Away

Gene Cernan on the moon. (Credit: NASA)
Gene Cernan on the moon. (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — Eugene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon, died Monday, Jan. 16, surrounded by his family.

Cernan, a Captain in the U.S. Navy, left his mark on the history of exploration by flying three times in space, twice to the moon. He also holds the distinction of being the second American to walk in space and the last human to leave his footprints on the lunar surface.

Photo gallery of Eugene Cernan

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The Year Ahead in Space

Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)
Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)

It’s going to be busy year in space in 2017. Here’s a look at what we can expect over the next 12 months.

A New Direction for NASA?

NASA’s focus under the Obama Administration has been to try to commercialize Earth orbit while creating a foundation that would allow the space agency to send astronauts to Mars in the 2030’s.

Whether Mars will remain a priority under the incoming Trump Administration remains to be seen. There is a possibility Trump will refocus the space agency on lunar missions instead.

Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), who is currently viewed as a leading candidate for NASA administrator, has written two blog posts focused on the importance of exploring the moon and developing its resources. Of course, whether Bridenstine will get NASA’s top job is unclear at this time.

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Bridenstine Weighs in Favor of Lunar Development

Rep. Jim Bridenstine
Rep. Jim Bridenstine

In a Dec. 29 blog post titled, Why the Moon Matters, Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) calls for the United States to focus on the economic and strategic benefits of the moon.

Bridenstine is reported to be a leading candidate for the position of NASA administrator in the Trump Administration. The space agency is focused on sending astronauts to Mars in the 2030’s. However, the new administration might refocus NASA on returning astronauts to the moon.

Here’s an excerpt from the blog post.

Utilizing propellant and materials on the Moon is also the first step for manned missions deeper into our solar system.  A permanent human presence on other celestial bodies requires in situ resource utilization.  The Moon, with its three-day emergency journey back to Earth, represents the best place to learn, train, and develop the necessary technologies and techniques for in situ resource utilization and an eventual long term human presence on Mars.  Fortunately, the Space Launch System and Orion are close to being developed and will start testing in 2018.  This system, with a commercial lander, could quickly place machines and robots on the moon to begin the cis-lunar economy.  With the right presidential guidance, humans could return in short order as well…this time, to stay.
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Will Trump Refocus NASA on the Moon?

Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)
Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)

After a meeting with president Donald Trump on Wednesday, historian Douglas Brinkley told reporters the president elect “was very interested in a man going to the moon and the moon shot so we were talking a little bit about that.”

This could mean that Trump will refocus NASA’s deep space exploration on the moon rather than Mars. On the other hand, it might mean nothing.

Some observers have noted that Trump’s position on issues often reflects what he discussed with the last person he talks to. Brinkley is from Rice University in Houston, a city that is home of NASA’s Mission Control.

Trump also has a habit of disavowing things he has said, even if the tweeted it for anyone to see or said it on television with millions of people watching.

So, it’s possible that at some point in the near future, Trump will say he never said anything about sending astronauts to the moon, accuse Brinkley and the journalists who quoted him of lying, and threaten the launch the whole lot of them into the sun.

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China Space Program White Paper Outlines Lunar & Mars Missions

china_flagA white paper outlining China’s space policy for the next five years calls for a sample return mission to the moon, a landing on the far side of Earth’s closest neighbor, and the launch of an orbiter and lander to Mars by 2020.

China will also begin constructing a permanent space station and research and development work on a heavy-lift launcher, reusable boosters and satellite servicing systems.

The nation also wants to expand international cooperation in areas that include remote sensing, space applications, lunar and planetary exploration, and human spaceflight.

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GLXP Update: Team Hakuto Rover to Hitch Ride on Team Indus Lander

Moonraker during its field test (Credit: HAKUTO)
Moonraker during its field test (Credit: HAKUTO)

Team Hakuto of Japan has announced plans to place its lunar rover aboard a landing craft being launched to the moon by Google Lunar X Prize rival Team Indus of India.

The announcement comes as U.S.-based Astrobotic announced it was withdrawing from the $30 million competition to land the first private rover on the moon. Team Hakuto was one of three teams planning to launch payloads to the moon next year aboard Astrobotic’s spacecraft.

Astrobotic now plans to launch its rover to the moon in 2019 with a second rover from Team Hakuto aboard. That flight will be too late to win the Google Lunar X Prize, which requires teams to launch their rovers by the end of 2017.

The competition has a $20 million prize for the first privately built rover to travel 500 meters across the surface and transmit high-definition video. There also is a $5 million second prize.

Astrobotic Pulls Out of Google Lunar X Prize

Peregrine lunar lander (Credit: Astrobotic)
Peregrine lunar lander (Credit: Astrobotic)

Astrobotic has pulled out of the Google Lunar X Prize, according to an update on the Space Angels Network website.

As a former XPRIZE contender, Astrobotic was the only team to win all three of the competition’s Milestone Prizes, which brought the company $1.75 million in prize money. Astrobotic is now poised for further success: Their Peregrine Lander will carry customer payloads to the Moon’s surface in 2019, including the rovers of three other GLXP competitors. These initial customers, who have had an opportunity to evaluate all potential service providers, have said that Astrobotic is “years ahead of the competition.”
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