NASA Wants Another Moon Lander For Artemis Astronauts, Not Just SpaceX’s Starship

NASA plans to encourage the development of another commercial vehicle that can land its Artemis astronauts on the moon. Space.com reports: In April 2021, NASA picked SpaceX to build the first crewed lunar lander for the agency’s Artemis program, which is working to put astronauts on the moon in the mid-2020s and establish a sustainable human presence on and around Earth’s nearest neighbor by the end of the decade. But SpaceX apparently won’t have the moon-landing market cornered: NASA announced today (March 23) that it plans to support the development of a second privately built crewed lunar lander.

“This strategy expedites progress toward a long-term, sustaining lander capability as early as the 2026 or 2027 timeframe,” Lisa Watson-Morgan, program manager for the Human Landing System Program at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, said in a statement today. “We expect to have two companies safely carry astronauts in their landers to the surface of the moon under NASA’s guidance before we ask for services, which could result in multiple experienced providers in the market,” Watson-Morgan added. […] Congress is “committed to ensuring that we have more than one lander to choose [from] for future missions,” [NASA Administrator Bill Nelson] said during a news conference today, citing conversations he’s had with people on Capitol Hill over the past year. “We’re expecting to have both Congress support and that of the Biden administration,” Nelson said. “And we’re expecting to get this competition started in the fiscal year [20]23 budget.”

Exact funding amounts and other details should be coming next week when the White House releases its 2023 federal budget request, he added. “So what we’re doing today is a bit of a preview,” Nelson said. “I think you’ll find it’s an indication that there are good things to come for this agency and, if we’re right, good things to come for all of humanity.” NASA plans to release a draft request for proposals (RFP) for the second moon lander by the end of the month and a final RFP later this spring, agency officials said. If all goes according to plan, NASA will pick the builder of the new vehicle in early 2023. That craft will have the ability to dock with Gateway, the small moon-orbiting space station that NASA plans to build, and take people and scientific gear from there to the surface (and back). This newly announced competition will be open to all American companies except SpaceX. But Elon Musk’s company will have the opportunity to negotiate the terms of its existing contract to perform additional lunar development work, NASA officials said during today’s news conference.

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Computer History Museum Publishes Memories of the Programmer for NASA’s Moon Missions

This week Silicon Valley’s Computer History Museum posted a PDF transcript (and video excerpts) from an interview with 81-year-old Margaret Hamilton, the programmer/systems designer who in the 1960s became director of the Software Engineering Division at the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory which developed the on-board flight software for NASA’s Apollo program. Prior to that Hamilton had worked on software to detect an airplane’s radar signature, but thought, “You know, ‘I guess I should delay graduate school again because I’d like to work on this program that puts all these men on the Moon….'”

“There was always one thing that stood out in my mind, being in the onboard flight software, was that it was ‘man rated,’ meaning if it didn’t work a person’s life was at stake if not over. That was always uppermost in my mind and probably many others as well.”

Interestingly, Hamilton had originally received two job offers from the Apollo Space Program, and had told them to flip a coin to settle it. (“The other job had to do with support systems. It was software, but it wasn’t the onboard flight software.”) But what’s fascinating is the interview’s glimpses at some of the earliest days of the programming profession:

There was all these engineers, okay? Hardware engineers, aeronautical engineers and all this, a lot of them out of MIT… But the whole idea of software and programming…? Dick Batten, Dr. Batten, when they told him that they were going to be responsible for the software…he went home to his wife and said he was going to be in charge of software and he thought it was some soft clothing…

Hamilton also remembers in college taking a summer job as a student actuary at Travelers Insurance in the mid-1950s, and “all of a sudden one day word was going around Travelers that there were these new things out there called computers that were going to take away all of their jobs… Pretty soon they wouldn’t have jobs. And so everybody was talking about it. They were scared they wouldn’t have a way to make a living.

“But, of course, it ended up being more jobs were created with the computers than there were….”

Hamilton’s story about Apollo 8 is amazing…

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NASA Releases New Photos of Jupiter – and a Recording of Its Moon that Sounds Like R2-D2

“As it seeks answers about the cosmos and what they mean for Earth’s origins, NASA on Friday announced a slew of discoveries about Jupiter,” reports the Washington Post

“And scientists brought home an interstellar tune from the road.”

The Juno spacecraft is gathering data about the origin of the solar system’s biggest planet — in which more than 1,300 Earths could fit. Among its recent findings are photos from inside the planet’s ring, a map of its magnetic field, details of its atmosphere and a trippy soundtrack from a spacecraft’s travels around one of its moons.

But it’s not exactly a song, or even perceptible to the human ear.

The radio emissions Juno recorded are not what a person would hear if they went to Jupiter — space is a vacuum and does not carry soundwaves like air does on Earth. But the probe zooming through space captured the electric and magnetic emissions that scientists later converted into perceptible sound. Turns out, orbiting Ganymede, which is one of Jupiter’s moons and the largest satellite in the solar system, kind of sounds like R2-D2.

Launched in 2011, became the eighth spacecraft to ever reach Jupiter in 2016, “and the first to probe below the giant planet’s thick gas cover.

“It fought Jupiter’s extreme temperatures and hazardous radiation to survey its north and south poles, chugging along despite a lack of sunshine on its solar panels.”

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