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Earth seen from above the Moon during Apollo 11. Photo: NASA
Fifty years after NASA first landed people on the Moon with its Apollo program, it's now aiming to do it again, but the storied space agency has a long way to go before it can get there.
Driving the news: Last week, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine reassigned Bill Gerstenmaier, a beloved figure at the agency, from his role as the head of human exploration and operations.
What's happening: NASA is facing both political and technical headwinds.
What they're saying: Bridenstine says NASA will be able to rise to the technical challenge set forth by the administration. The political risks, however, are dicier.
SpaceX's Crew Dragon. Photo: SpaceX
SpaceX has pinned down the cause of an explosion that destroyed one of its Crew Dragon capsules on a test stand on April 20.
Why it matters: The stakes are high for SpaceX. NASA has a contract with the company to use its Crew Dragon capsule to fly astronauts to and from the International Space Station.
Details: A SpaceX and NASA investigation team found that a leaky valve in the Crew Dragon's propulsion system was to blame for the explosion, which took place about 100 milliseconds before the company lit up the capsule's SuperDraco thrusters for a test firing.
What to watch: NASA has yet to put out an updated expected timeframe for SpaceX's first crewed flight to the station.
A Cygnus spacecraft as it leaves the International Space Station. Photo: NASA
UbiquitiLink has raised $5.2 million from Revolution's Rise of the Rest Seed Fund and Blazar Ventures, Axios has learned, bringing the commercial space startup's total funding to $12 million. Kim Hart, who writes the Axios Cities newsletter, reports.
Why it matters: Virginia-based UbiquitiLink is testing the first cell towers in space to provide satellite-powered broadband service — directly to consumers' cellphones — to rural and unserved areas. According to FCC data, 31% of rural residents don't have fixed broadband service.
The big picture: Big space players such as SpaceX, Viasat and OneWeb are launching low-Earth orbit satellites to beam broadband services around the world. Those services require costly terminals or antennas to be installed on the ground to receive the signal.
How it works: The initial service will provide a backup safety net for services like 911 in remote locations and emergency broadcasts.
Compared to what you'd find in urban areas, the initial connections are slower — download speeds of around 180 kilobits per second, which is in line with 2G speeds.
Yes, but: While the cost of launching satellites in space has come down, it's still an expensive undertaking that will require a lot more money to scale into a commercial service.
Aerogel could make parts of Mars habitable. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Future space explorers might be able to use a silica aerogel — a porous, extremely light solid material — to insulate greenhouses and other structures on Mars, a study in the journal Nature Astronomy this week shows.
Why it matters: Most schemes to allow people to live on Mars include some kind of extreme attempt to make the planet itself livable though terraforming, but the new aerogel could prove a simple and low-tech solution for habitability.
Details: The study suggests that just a 2- to 3-centimeter-thick aerogel “shield” over parts of the Martian surface could actually make those parts of the world able to sustain liquid water on the surface and even support photosynthesis.
But, but, but: There’s a way to go before the material is ready for the Red Planet. “Aerogel is quite fragile, so it'd need to be modified or combined with other materials to make a robust shield,” Wordsworth said.
Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin stands next to the lunar lander on the Moon. Photo: NASA
Should Neil Armstrong’s bootprints be on the Moon forever? (Nadia Drake, New York Times)
The moment that made Neil Armstrong's heart rate spike (Marina Koren, The Atlantic)
50 astronauts, in their own words (Christian Davenport and Julie Vitkovskaya, Washington Post)
Podcast: 13 minutes to the Moon (Kevin Fong, BBC World Service)
Video: Why NASA hasn't gone back to the Moon (Loren Grush, The Verge)
NASA's Curiosity rover has been working in solitude on the surface of Mars since August 2012.
This isn’t the first time the orbiter has seen Curiosity on the Martian surface. Another photo taken in 2013 shows Curiosity and its tracks trailing behind it on the Red Planet.
Thanks for spending time with me this week. Be sure to stare up at the Moon this weekend. I know I will. 🌙