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First Egyptian and Portuguese spacefliers take a ride

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture sent six more crew members on a suborbital space ride, including the first Egyptian and Portuguese citizens to reach the final frontier.

Thanks to today’s flight from Launch Site One in West Texas, Blue Origin’s list of spacefliers has grown to 31 over the course of a little more than a year. Bezos himself went on the first crewed flight in July 2021, and Florida investor Evan Dick bought two tickets to space.

The lineup for NS-22 — the 22nd mission for the New Shepard suborbital launch system, and the sixth crewed flight — set a couple of precedents. Portugal’s first spaceflier is Mario Ferreira, an entrepreneur, investor and president of Porto-based Pluris Investments. The first from Egypt is Sara Sabry, a mechanical and biomedical engineer who founded a nonprofit called Deep Space Initiative. Sabry was the second Blue Origin crew member sponsored by Space for Humanity, a nonprofit that supports citizen astronauts.

Rounding out the “Titanium Feather” crew were Coby Cotton, a co-founder of the Dude Perfect sports/entertainment channel; Vanessa O’Brien, a British-American explorer and former banking executive; Clint Kelly III, who helped pioneer technologies for driverless cars; and Steve Young, former CEO of Young’s Communications LLC.

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GeekWire

Blue Origin crew will mark firsts for Egypt and Portugal

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture still has some final-frontier firsts up its sleeve: Today the company said its next crewed suborbital flight will send up the first spacefliers to hail from Egypt and Portugal.

But when will they fly? The launch date is still up in the air.

The lineup for Blue Origin’s sixth crewed mission — which is known as NS-22 because it’s the 22nd flight overall, including uncrewed flights — will also include a co-founder of the Dude Perfect sports/entertainment video venture, a British-American mountaineer, a driverless-car pioneer and a former telecom executive.

Today’s crew announcement comes a year and two days after Blue Origin’s first-ever crewed flight, which sent Bezos and three others beyond the 100-kilometer Karman Line that marks the internationally accepted boundary of outer space.

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Fiction Science Club

True-life spy story gets an alien twist in sci-fi tale

What if one of the CIA’s most secretive and expensive Cold War operations was actually a cover story for an even more secretive, even more expensive operation … involving aliens?

That’s the question explored by science-fiction author Harry Turtledove in a new novel, “Three Miles Down.” The plot is only moderately wilder than the $800 million CIA operation on which it’s based: Project Azorian, which involved trying to raise a sunken Soviet sub from the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.

And as if a tale of aliens and the CIA isn’t wild enough, Turtledove works in references to the Watergate scandal and President Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1974, which was happening at the same time as Project Azorian. Turtledove says he couldn’t resist drawing parallels between the tumult of those times and today’s political tensions.

“There are enough parallels that it sort of leaps out at you, and you aren’t really being honest with yourself or your readers if you don’t,” he says in the latest episode of the Fiction Science podcast, which focuses on the intersection of science and fiction. “The only real difference is, what’s going on now is so much worse.”

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GeekWire

NASA lays out its plan for moon rocket’s first launch

If all goes according to plan, NASA could launch its heavy-lift Space Launch System rocket on its first flight around the moon by as early as Aug. 29.

That’s a big “if,” however: Workers at Kennedy Space Center in Florida still have to finish fixing and testing the rocket’s systems, including components that didn’t get fully checked out during last month’s launch rehearsal.

Cliff Lanham, senior vehicle operations manager for NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems Program, said it’ll be tricky to finish up the final test while observing all the launch constraints currently in place. “We do have some challenges right now as we complete that test and all our final closeout work, particularly in the core stage intertank, to get to a point where we’re ready to roll out,” he said today.

Today’s announcement came on an auspicious day: the 53rd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

The schedule calls for the 322-foot-tall, 3.5 million-pound rocket to roll out from the space center’s Vehicle Assembly Building on Aug. 18. That would set the stage for potential launch attempts on Aug. 29, Sept. 2 and Sept. 5. Liftoff would mark the start of NASA’s Artemis 1 mission, an uncrewed test flight that’s meant to blaze a trail for astronauts to land on the lunar surface by as early as 2025.

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GeekWire

Microsoft strengthens ties with final frontier pioneers

Microsoft doesn’t build rockets. It doesn’t build satellites, and it doesn’t have a launch pad. So what does Microsoft’s Azure Space business unit do?

“Azure Space is about bringing cloud computing and space technologies together with a partner ecosystem,” Stephen Kitay, senior director of Microsoft Azure Space, told me.

From the beginning, partnerships have been “a foundational part of our approach to space,” Kitay said. So, two years after launching its space-centric cloud computing service, Microsoft is taking a new step to deepen those partnerships by establishing the Azure Space Partner Community.

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GeekWire

After SpaceX trip, citizen astronaut joins Blue Origin

Seattle-area data engineer Chris Sembroski got his first taste of space last year during an orbital trip in SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule, but now he’s got a full-time job in the space industry — as an avionics engineer at Blue Origin.

In today’s Twitter update, Sembroski made no mention of the rivalry between SpaceX’s billionaire founder, Elon Musk, and Jeff Bezos, who founded the Blue Origin space venture as well as Amazon.

Instead, he played up the allure of the space frontier, as reflected in newly released pictures from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, or JWST. “Space beckons us. It taunts us,” he wrote.

“Images of our universe from Hubble and JWST pull on our desires to explore and to seek out new adventures,” Sembroski said. “I am thrilled to be a part of our expansion out to the rest of the universe — AND to announce I have joined @blueorigin! Let’s go!”

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GeekWire

Microsoft pushes autonomous drones to new heights

How do you teach an autonomous drone to fly itself? Practice, practice, practice.

Now Microsoft is offering a way to put a drone’s control software through its paces millions of times before the first takeoff.

The cloud-based simulation platform, Project AirSim, is being made available in limited preview starting today, in conjunction with this week’s Farnborough International Airshow in Britain.

“Project AirSim is a critical tool that lets us bridge the world of bits and the world of atoms, and it shows the power of the industrial metaverse — the virtual worlds where businesses will build, test and hone solutions, and then bring them into the real world,” Gurdeep Pall, Microsoft corporate vice president for business incubations in technology and research, said today in a blog posting.

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GeekWire

Microbes could blaze a trail for farmers on Mars

An experiment that’s on its way to the International Space Station focuses on a subject that’s as common as dirt, but could be the key to growing crops in space.

The NASA-funded experiment — known as Dynamics of Microbiomes in Space, or DynaMoS — is being conducted by researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. DynaMoS makes use soil and bacteria that were collected at a Washington State University field site in Prosser, Wash.

“Soil microbes are the hidden players of the life support system on planet Earth,” PNNL chief scientist Janet Jansson, the principal investigator for the DynaMoS experiment, explained during a pre-launch news briefing. The bacteria work to break down organic matter and make nutrients available for growing plants.

Space missions could extend the microbes’ reach beyond our home planet. “Soil microbes can help to make conditions on the lunar surface and Mars more favorable for plant growth,” Jansson said. “They can also be used to help grow crops on space stations and during long-term spaceflight.”

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GeekWire

Feast your eyes on Webb Telescope’s space smorgasbord

A day after NASA showed how far the James Webb Space Telescope could dive into the cosmic frontier, scientists released additional pictures demonstrating the observatory’s scientific breadth.

Today’s data release highlighted the $10 billion telescope’s ability to analyze planetary atmospheres and record scenes of stellar birth and death in unprecedented detail.

The infrared images also demonstrated that the Webb Space Telescope’s 21-foot-wide mirror is ready to provide sharp pictures from the very start. That comes in contrast to the Hubble Space Telescope’s debut in 1990, when the initial images were marred by a flaw in its 7.8-foot-wide mirror.

“This telescope is working fantastically well,” Mark McCaughrean, the European Space Agency’s senior adviser for science and exploration, said today during NASA’s Webb webcast. That raises hopes that the James Webb Space Telescope, also known as JWST, will deliver on its promise to revolutionize the study of phenomena ranging from the origins of the universe to the habitability of alien planets.

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GeekWire

Webb Telescope’s first image unveiled at White House

President Joe Biden got in on today’s celebration of the first full-color image from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, a $10 billion observatory that’s been decades in the making. But the star of the show was the image itself, billed as the deepest and sharpest infrared view of the universe to date.

The picture shows a patch of sky where the gravitational effect of a massive galaxy cluster in the foreground, known as SMACS 0723, focuses the light rays emanating from far more distant galaxies in the background.

“This telescope embodies how America leads the world, not by the example of our power, but by the power of our example,” Biden said during today’s White House ceremony. “These images are going to remind the world that America can do big things, and remind the American people — especially our children — that there’s nothing beyond our capacity.”

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson noted that the light from some of the galaxies shown in Webb’s First Deep Field “has been traveling for over 13 billion years.”

And that’s just the start: Astronomers say future images from the James Webb Space Telescope, or JWST, are likely to exceed the distance record set today, and expand other space frontiers as well.