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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: NASA/Getty Handout
Astronomers are grappling with setting scientific priorities, charges of sexism and racial discrimination, and thorny ethical questions about how they interact with communities they work in.
What's happening: Astronomers are currently debating where and how much money should be directed to large-scale missions versus smaller ones.
Details: The development of the James Webb Space Telescope — the Hubble telescope's successor — has been a drain on NASA's budget for years, as the cost of the program ballooned to nearly $10 billion.
At the same time, a report released by the American Institute of Physics details the systemic barriers African American students face when getting their bachelor's degrees in astronomy and physics.
Issues around inclusion in astronomy are also reflected in the controversy surrounding the Thirty Meter Telescope in Hawaii, forcing space scientists to re-examine their relationships with the communities they work in.
"We're [astronomers] all kind of going through this — for us — difficult time where it's like, 'Oh, are we the baddies?'" astronomer Jessie Christiansen told Axios.
The big picture: All of these forces are colliding in a field that the U.S. has led for decades. The answers to these existential questions will fundamentally change American astronomy and astrophysics.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launching with a Crew Dragon atop. Photo: NASA TV/SpaceX
SpaceX completed a major test on Sunday, paving the way for the company's first crewed launch to the International Space Station.
Why it matters: NASA holds contracts with SpaceX and Boeing to fly astronauts to the station, returning crewed launches to the U.S. for the first time since the end of the space shuttle program in 2011.
What's happening: Sunday's test was a shakeout of SpaceX's Crew Dragon abort system designed to whisk astronauts away from a failing rocket.
Between the lines: NASA is also hedging its bets and purchasing another seat aboard Russia's Soyuz for its astronauts, according to Bridenstine, potentially taking some of the pressure off Boeing and SpaceX.
Earth from space. Photo: NASA
2019 was a record year for investment in the space industry, according to a report from the investment firm Space Angels.
Why it matters: The report paints a picture of an industry that's coming of age, with total investment in 2019 reaching $5.8 billion, up 73% from 2018 and exceeding 2017's record-setting year that saw $5.1 billion of investment.
Details: According to Space Angels, 535 space companies have received a total of $25.7 billion since 2009. While U.S. companies have led in investment, Chinese companies accounted for about 34% of investment in the last quarter of 2019.
What's next: Some warn that a shakeout could be coming to the space industry after years of growth, but Anderson doesn't see it that way, pointing to the tech industry's demand for data and applications based on it.
A Starlink launch from Florida. Photo: SpaceX
SpaceX continues to blast satellites into orbit as space community worries (Loren Grush, The Verge)
U.S. Space Force nameplates introduced for camouflage uniforms (Sandra Erwin, SpaceNews)
New signs of a shielding magnetic field found in Earth’s oldest rock crystals (Colin Barras, Science)
How the dinosaur-killing asteroid primed Earth for modern life (Tim Vernimmen, National Geographic)
Photo: NASA/SOFIA/Lim, De Buizer & Radomski et al.; ESA/Herschel; NASA/JPL-Caltech
More than 100 young, massive stars shine within the heart of the Swan Nebula.
Why it matters: These types of observations allow scientists to map the nebula, revealing new information about the evolution of this active, star-forming region of the Milky Way.
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