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The Next Big Thing for Exploring the Distant Universe: Balloons

July 8, 2013 FROM NEXTGOV arrow The history of space exploration is in many ways a history of lenses. From Galileo's Starry Messenger to the powerful telescope arrays we have today, it has been two basic facts -- the curve of a glass, the sheen of a mirror -- that have largely been responsible for expanding ...

That Time an Astronaut Got a Pie Sent to the International Space Station

July 1, 2013 FROM NEXTGOV arrow Peggy Whitson was the first female commander of the International Space Station. In October 2002, she was living on the Station. And during STS-112, the shuttle mission that sent astronauts to help build out the Station's infrastructure, her husband took part in a time-honored tradition: he sent her a care ...

How We Name the Things We Find on Mars

June 28, 2013 FROM NEXTGOV arrow The Curiosity rover that arrived on Mars a year ago this August was named by Clara Ma, a sixth-grader from Kansas. Ma submitted an essay to a national competition, Name the Rover, that asked students to submit ideas for what the new rover -- née Mars Science Laboratory -- should ...

Going Really, Really Green: Earth's Plant Life, as Seen From Space

June 26, 2013 FROM NEXTGOV arrow The Earth is the "Blue Planet" because more than 70 percent of its surface is covered in water. But what does the Blue Planet look like without the blue? How would Earth appear as ... the Green Planet? Something like this, apparently. The Suomi NPP satellite, NASA's Earth-observing research satellite, ...

Here You Go, Taxpayers: A Billion-Pixel Image of Mars

June 21, 2013 FROM NEXTGOV arrow The main purpose of the Mars Science Laboratory's mission to the red planet is exactly what its name suggests: science. There's a secondary mission, too, though, something that has less to do with laboratories and more to do with Mars itself: inspiration. Excitement. Wonder. The simple fact that humans put ...

Video: Here's What Happens When You Light a Fire in Space

June 18, 2013 FROM NEXTGOV arrow "When it comes to fire," says physics professor Forman A. Williams, "we're just getting started." Take the flame of a candle, the kind you might find on a birthday cake. The flame takes the familiar shape -- as, basically, a gaseous teardrop -- because of gravity. The hot air rises ...

A Prosthetic Limb, Controlled by an Amputee's Thoughts

June 14, 2013 FROM NEXTGOV arrow Cyborgs are here -- or, at least, they're in DARPA laboratories. For a while now, the Defense Department agency, alongside civilian researchers, has been working to develop prosthetic limbs that can be controlled by the brains -- as in, the thoughts -- of their wearers. And one of the most ...

Oops! This Lab Neglected to Return the Samples of Moondust NASA Loaned It

May 31, 2013 FROM NEXTGOV arrow In 1969, after the Apollo 11 crew returned from their historic mission to the moon, the rocks and soil samples they collected were put to use in scientific research. NASA divided the lunar spoils Armstrong and Aldrin had gathered so painstakingly into small vials, sending the samples out to more ...

The Future of the Spacesuit

May 30, 2013 FROM NEXTGOV arrow NASA's first spacewalk, during the Gemini IV mission of 1965, came uncomfortably close to losing an astronaut. Ed White, stepping out into the abyss, found himself overcome with the joy that is sometimes referred to, fittingly, as "space euphoria." Floating in space was "the most natural feeling," he enthused to ...

Your Smartphone, Made of Cement

May 28, 2013 FROM NEXTGOV arrow Straw into gold. Water into wine. Servant into princess. It's a longstanding obsession of human myth-making: turning one thing into another thing -- a lowly thing into a vaunted thing -- by way of miracle or magic. Well, someone get Joseph Campbell. Because science has just found another way to ...