A tweet from Trump stirs tumult over moon plan

Donald Trump signs NASA bill

President Donald Trump shows off a flight jacket he was given after signing a NASA authorization bill into law in 2017. (NASA Photo / Bill Ingalls)

President Donald Trump put the space community on edge today with a tweet that downplayed NASA’s plans to send astronauts to the moon by 2024 as the first step toward a sustainable lunar presence.

Instead, Trump framed the moon program — unveiled by Vice President Mike Pence amid much fanfare less than three months ago — as being merely part of a bigger push to Mars.

At least that’s what he meant to say. The way the tweet was phrased left itself open to all sorts of interpretations, including an obviously misintended claim that the moon was part of the Red Planet.

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NASA lays out space station commercialization plan

"For Sale" sign in space

As a joke, NASA spacewalker Dale Gardner holds up a “For Sale” sign during a shuttle mission in 1984, in an era when the space shuttle fleet took on commercial satellite servicing tasks. (NASA Photo)

NASA today laid out its initial batch of ground rules for future commercial activitieson the International Space Station, including provisions for having private-sector astronauts spend up to 30 days in orbit.

But it doesn’t sound as if those private astronauts will be spending all their time just looking out the window: The ventures that organize the space trips will have to file a work plan explaining the proposed mission and what orbital resources will be required. And the ventures will have to reimburse NASA for the use of those resources to the tune of $35,000 or so per day, on top of a launch cost likely to exceed $50 million.

NASA chief financial officer Jeff DeWit said the new policies, including some yet to be announced, should mark a paradigm shift for the space agency as it focuses on moving beyond Earth orbit and putting astronauts on the moon by as early as 2024. NASA’s new directive clears the space agency to participate in marketing and manufacturing activities, for a price.

“This will open space to new companies to unleash American corporate innovation and ingenuity in new markets, all driving a lower cost to U.S. taxpayers,” he said.

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Jeff Bezos explains Amazon’s big bet on satellites

Jenny Freshwater and Jeff Bezos

Amazon’s Jenny Freshwater engages Jeff Bezos in a fireside chat at the re:MARS conference in Las Vegas. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

LAS VEGAS — For the first time in public, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos explained the rationale for his risky Project Kuiper satellite broadband venture, during a fireside chat that was interrupted when an animal rights activist jumped on stage.

Today’s half-hour discussion was one of the headliner events for Amazon’s inaugural re:MARS conference, held here in Las Vegas to throw a spotlight on the frontiers of Machine learning, Automation, Robotics and Space. It’s modeled after the invitation-only MARS meeting that Amazon has been organizing annually since 2016.

Bezos and his partner in the fireside chat — Jenny Freshwater, leader of forecasting and capacity planning at Amazon — broadened the focus of the conversation to touch on some of the Amazon CEO’s favorite topics, including his management philosophy and his advice for entrepreneurs.

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Alexa is learning to juggle multiple AI skills

Rohit Prasad

Rohit Prasad, Amazon’s vice president and head scientist for Alexa, explains how the virtual assistant can plan different activities for a night out. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

LAS VEGAS — Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistant will soon get savvier about juggling its thousands of skills — starting with arranging all the elements for a night out.

Cross-skill action prediction is one of the upgrades for Alexa announced here today at Amazon’s re:MARS conference.

Rohit Prasad, Amazon’s vice president and head scientist for Alexa, laid out a scenario where a user of Echo Show could engage in a seamless dialogue to choose a showing of “Dark Phoenix,” reserve seats through Atom Tickets, find a nice Chinese restaurant nearby, make a dinner reservation through Open Table, set up an Uber ride and watch a movie trailer.

“We’ll be bringing this experience to our customers soon,” Prasad said during today’s morning keynote.

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Jeff Bezos gets a kick out of robotic arms

Jeff Bezos with robotic arms

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos raises his arms (and the robotic arms they’re linked to) at the re:MARS conference in Las Vegas. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

LAS VEGAS — Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ handshake is at least as firm as a robotic hand’s grip.

I found that out for myself today at Amazon’s inaugural re:MARS conference, when Bezos tried out the touch-sensitive, dexterous robotic arm set up in an exhibit hall at the Aria Resort and Casino here in Las Vegas.

Like the annual invitation-only MARS conference, re:MARS is designed to focus on the frontiers of Machine learning, Automation, Robotics and Space. And robots were the stars of the show when Bezos popped in.

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Amazon unveils two new breeds of robots

Brad Porter

Brad Porter, vice president of robotics at Amazon, introduces new breeds of robots at the re:MARS conference in Las Vegas. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

LAS VEGAS — Amazon says there are now 200,000 robots working alongside 300,000 people at its distribution facilities around the world, and there’s more to come.

Brad Porter, vice president of robotics at Amazon, took the virtual wraps off two new types of robots during today’s keynote session at the first-ever re:MARS conference here in Las Vegas.

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Amazon gives new drone design a glitzy debut

Drone debut

Amazon Worldwide Consumer CEO Jeff Wilke unveils the next-generation delivery drone at the re:MARS conference in Las Vegas. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

LAS VEGAS — Amazon’s drone ambitions took another step forward today as the tech giant revealed its latest delivery drone design.

At Amazon’s re:MARS conference, Amazon’s Worldwide Consumer CEO, Jeff Wilke, showed off a fully-electric drone that can fly up to 15 miles and deliver packages under 5 pounds in less than 30 minutes.

As Wilke spoke at this morning’s presentation, one of the drones — which is roughly the size of a go-cart — rose dramatically from a corner of the stage.

“You’re going to see this new drone delivering packages to customers in months,” Wilke told the Vegas crowd.

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