SpaceX planning Mars missions →

Loren Grush:

SpaceX plans to send its Dragon spacecraft to Mars as early as 2018, the company announced today — marking a major first step toward CEO Elon Musk’s goal of sending humans to the Red Planet. The company didn’t say how many spacecraft it will send, but hinted it would conduct a series of these Dragon missions and that it would release more details soon. In a tweet, the company indicated that the capsules would fly on SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket, a bigger version of its Falcon 9; the rocket will launch the capsules to the planet to test out how to land heavy payloads on Mars. If successful, the endeavor would make SpaceX the first private spaceflight company to land a vehicle on another planet.

Holy moly.

SpaceX sticks the landing →

After several failed attempts over the last year or so, SpaceX has successfully landed the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket on an at-sea drone ship.

While this isn’t the first time the company has landed a spent rocket stage, doing it at sea (as opposed to at Cape Canaveral in Florida) should work in SpaceX’s favor in their quest to lessen the cost of future flights by reusing these vehicles. Landing at sea also means the company should be able to recover rockets from a wider range of mission types and launch locations.

SpaceX isn’t the only company racing to build a reusable rocket. Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin just flew the same rocket for the third time. That is an impressive feat, but it’s important to remember that Blue Origin’s flights are suborbital And squarely within the confines of R&D. SpaceX’s primary objective today was to fly supplies to the International Space Station; the test landing was secondary to the paying work of taking equipment and food to low-Earth orbit.

Differences aside, both companies are well on their way to reusable rockets, which will allow for cheaper and safer travel to space. The future is here, and it’s on the back of rockets that can be used, refurbished and launched again.

Physicists detect gravitational waves →

Dennis Overbye:

A team of physicists who can now count themselves as astronomers announced on Thursday that they had heard and recorded the sound of two black holes colliding a billion light-years away, a fleeting chirp that fulfilled the last prophecy of Einstein’s general theory of relativity.

That faint rising tone, physicists say, is the first direct evidence of gravitational waves, the ripples in the fabric of space-time that Einstein predicted a century ago. And it is a ringing (pun intended) confirmation of the nature of black holes, the bottomless gravitational pits from which not even light can escape, which were the most foreboding (and unwelcome) part of his theory.

Don’t miss the video explaining how this all works.

NASA’s 2017 →

Jason Snell, writing for Yahoo Tech:

While the give and take between NASA and Congress is sure to go on — with the election of a new president later this year as a complicating factor — the fact is that NASA has a $19 billion budget for 2016 and a $19 billion budget proposed for 2017. Here’s some of what the agency is planning on doing with that money.

NASA Day of Remembrance →

Today, on the 30th anniversary of the Challenger disaster, NASA is remembering its fallen astronauts.

Sadly, 1986 doesn’t mark the only tragedy in the agency’s history. On January 27, 1967 the crew of Apollo 1 was killed during a test on the launchpad. A year earlier, on February 28, 1966 two Gemini astronauts were killed in a flight in St. Louis, Missouri.

On February 1, 2003, the space shuttle Columbia broke up on re-entry, killing all seven crew members.

There’s a saying that “space is hard.” It gets thrown around when things like unmanned rockets explode. The phrase, however, lacks the gravitas that should be used on days like today. America, Russia and Israel have lost men and women during missions and training exercises. It’s dangerous, envelope-pushing work, and in this age of renewed progress, it’s something that we should not forget.