NASA goes public with astronaut graduation party

Graduating astronauts

The newest astronauts in the corps for NASA (and the Canadian Space Agency) wave from the stage during their graduation ceremony at Johnson Space Center. From left: Kayla Barron, Zena Cardman, Raja Chari, Matthew Dominick, Bob Hines, Warren Hoburg, Jonny Kim, Joshua Kutryk (CSA), Jasmin Moghbeli. Loral O’Hara, Jessica Watkins, Jennifer Sidey-Gibbons (CSA) and Frank Rubio. (NASA Photo / James Blair)

Over the course of six decades, NASA has celebrated the selection of its astronauts in groups ranging from the Mercury 7 of 1959 to the Turtles of 2017 — but there’s never been much of a public celebration for their graduation from astronaut training. Until today.

The 11 astronaut candidates selected in 2017, plus two Canadian astronauts who joined them in training, received a grand send-off at Johnson Space Center in Texas from NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and other VIPs to mark their eligibility for assignment to future space missions.

NASA raised the graduation ceremony’s public profile in part to build up enthusiasm for this year’s expected debut of U.S.-built commercial space taxis, as well as the drive to land astronauts on the moon by 2024 — a campaign known as Artemis.

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OceanGate raises $18M to boost submersible fleet

Maintenance check for Cyclops 1 sub

OceanGate’s team puts the Cyclops 1 submersible through its annual maintenance check at the company’s shop in Everett, Wash. (OceanGate Photo)

OceanGate says it has raised $18.1 million in new investment, laying the financial groundwork for an expansion of its fleet of deep-sea submersibles and setting the stage for dives to the 108-year-old Titanic shipwreck in 2021.

The funding round was reported in documents filed today with the Securities and Exchange Commission. OceanGate CEO and founder Stockton Rush said the figure reported in the documents, $19.3 million, would be amended to reflect the actual size of the round.

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U.S. officials suspect Iranian missile downed 737 jet

Crash scene in Iran

Teams from the Iran Red Crescent Society survey the Iranian site where a Ukrainian 737-800 jet crashed. (International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Photo via Twitter)

President Donald Trump and other U.S. officials today voiced suspicions that Iranian surface-to-air missiles brought down the Ukrainian Boeing 737-800 jet that crashed in Iran on Jan. 8 amid a volley of attacks.

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ANA Avatar XPRIZE teams go to the next level

Avatar at work

The ANA Avatar XPRIZE aims to encourage the development of devices that will allow travelers to experience remote locales virtually. (ANA Avatar XPRIZE via YouTube)

Seventy-seven teams from 19 countries around the globe have qualified to participate in the $10 million ANA Avatar XPRIZE competition, which aims to promote the development of robotic systems that let travelers connect with far-flung locales virtually.

The roster of competitors includes 27 teams from the United States, ranging from Boston University’s Robotics and Ambient Intelligence Labs to Virtual Vegas.

There are teams from international robotic hot spots such as Japan and South Korea as well as from emerging tech frontiers such as Brazil and Jordan.

“The incredible geographical diversity represented by the 77 teams moving forward will provide the unique perspectives necessary to develop transformative avatar technology capable of transcending physical limitations and expanding the capacity of humankind itself,” David Locke, prize director at the Los Angeles-based XPRIZE founation, said today in a news release.

With Japan’s All Nippon Airways as the title sponsor, the ANA Avatar XPRIZE will challenge teams to come up with physical, non-autonomous robotic avatar systems that enable a human operator to see, hear and interact with a remote environment in real time.

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NASA and Boeing lay out Starliner schedule

Boeing Starliner on the road

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner space capsule, which was christened Calypso after last month’s test flight, is wrapped in plastic for transport back to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center from White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. (Boeing Photo)

NASA says it’s working with Boeing to set up an independent investigation team to review last month’s less-than-perfect maiden flight of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner space taxi, and is considering whether another uncrewed test flight to the International Space Station will be required.

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Next SpaceShipTwo reaches factory milestone

VSS Unity and next SpaceShipTwo

Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity space plane is parked to the left, and a SpaceShipTwo plane that’s under construction is at right. (Virgin Galactic Photo)

The rocket plane that’s due to become Virgin Galactic’s second commercial suborbital spaceship can now stand on its own two feet — or to be more precise, on its own landing gear.

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Ukrainian Boeing 737 jet crashes in Iran

A Ukrainian Boeing 737-800 jet carrying 176 people crashed tonight after taking off from Tehran’s international airport, killing all aboard, Iranian news media reported.

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