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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios
As NASA pushes to the Moon with its Artemis program, the old Apollo narratives of American exceptionalism and human settlement of space haven't changed significantly.
The big picture: Today's lunar aspirations build on Apollo-era ideas of space colonization, suggesting that creating settlements in the solar system could insulate humanity from existential threats faced on Earth.
Yes, but: Colonization on Earth calls to mind the violent takeover of lands and societies, and while there aren't necessarily living beings on the Moon that would be impacted by settlement efforts, that may not matter.
Where it stands: People are having discussions around how to make the language used when talking about spaceflight more inclusive.
That's not enough for some experts, particularly when the Trump administration's motivations for sending NASA back to the Moon by 2024 appear to hinge on nationalism and politics.
The impact: The historical narratives around spaceflight can bias how we think about access to space.
The bottom line: Space is a frontier, and while people are trying to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, old ideas still persist.
The Saturn V launch that sent Apollo 11 to the moon in 1969. Photo: NASA
While the broader narratives surrounding Artemis and Apollo are similar, the missions themselves — and the specific motivations behind them — are very different.
The big picture: The Apollo missions were motivated by a desire to beat the Soviet Union to the Moon by landing on the lunar surface first.
Flashback: Apollo’s mission profile hinged on the huge Saturn V rocket’s power, which created 7.6 million pounds of thrust upon liftoff, making it the most powerful rocket flown to date.
Where it stands: Artemis will make use of the huge Space Launch System (SLS) rocket that, once it’s flying, will produce 15% more thrust than the Saturn V at liftoff.
But, but, but: Even though the Saturn V was built more than 50 years ago and the basic components of a chemical rocket haven’t changed all that much in the intervening decades, the SLS is still years behind schedule.
Artist's illustration of Dragonfly on Titan. Photo: NASA/JHU-APL
NASA’s newly selected Dragonfly mission to Saturn’s largest moon Titan will mark a new way of exploring the solar system for the space agency.
The big picture: Instead of staying in one place like a lander or driving along the surface like a rover, Dragonfly will be able to fly through Titan’s thick atmosphere, land and then take off again.
Details: Once it arrives at the moon in 2034 after launch in 2026, Dragonfly will descend through the world’s atmosphere underneath a parachute before flying free using its 4 rotors and heading to its first destination at Titan’s equator.
Yes, but: There are always risks when trying something new out in the solar system. NASA is planning to draw from technologies that are currently in use on Earth and Mars to make sure Dragonfly has its best chance at a successful mission.
Artist's illustration of a growing galaxy. Photo: Adam Makarenko/W.M. Keck Observatory
A new study in Nature Astronomy describes how the cosmic web — the huge network of gas that effectively connects all galaxies — feeds young, growing galaxies in distant space.
Why it matters: Scientists have long debated exactly how galaxies form, so this new study is another datapoint that could help them figure out exactly why our universe looks the way it does.
What they did: The team used a specialized instrument at the Keck Observatory to watch as gas from two nebulas streamed into two growing galaxies in distant space.
A view from CSIRO’s Australian SKA Pathfinder radio telescope antenna 29. Photo: CSIRO/Alex Cherney
The technology, sweat, and anxiety of shooting a rocket launch (Loren Grush, The Verge)
That interstellar asteroid? It wasn't aliens. (Nola Taylor Redd, Space.com)
Contact lost with three Starlink satellites (Caleb Henry, Space News)
Tracing a fast radio burst (Axios)
NASA tests system to pull astronauts to safety during rocket failure (Axios)
Photo: NASA/ESA/N. Smith/J. Morse
A star system nearing the violent end of its life is seen by the Hubble Space Telescope in a photo released this week.
Eventually, Eta Carinae will explode as a supernova, truly ending its life in space, but perhaps dazzling us for a time on Earth when it does.
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