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Mars probe’s fans are all a-Twitter about landing

Today’s smashingly successful touchdown of NASA’s InSight lander on Mars was a cause for celebration on Twitter.

There was good-natured snark from SarcasticRover and from Matthew Inman, the Seattle cartoonist behind The Oatmeal (following up on his terrific preview of the landing). And there were heartfelt congratulations from the space community’s celebrities, including SpaceX founder Elon Musk and Bill Nye the Science Guy.

Get the top tweets on GeekWire.

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Rev up the video for NASA’s InSight landing on Mars

Mars InSight lander
An artist’s conception shows NASA’s Mars InSight firing its thrusters for landing. (NASA / JPL-Caltech Illustration)

Today’s the day for the Mars InSight lander’s touchdown on the Red Planet, and NASA is pulling out all the stops to let us in on the action.

This is the first Mars landing to take place since the Curiosity rover was lowered onto the rocky terrain of Gusev Crater more than six years ago. And in the final hours of InSight’s nearly seven-month, 300 million-mile-cruise, the two robots are having quite a conversation on Twitter. (There’s even an in-joke over “sol,” which is NASA’s term for a Martian day.)

Get the full story on GeekWire.

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First gene-edited babies reportedly born in China

He Jiankui
Chinese researcher He Jiankui discusses his lab’s effort to produce babies whose genes have been altered to protect them from future HIV infection. (The He Lab via YouTube)

A Chinese researcher says his lab facilitated the first birth of gene-edited children — twin girls who are said to possess genetic alterations that could protect them from HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

“Two beautiful little Chinese girls, named Lulu and Nana, came crying into this world as healthy as any other babies a few weeks ago. The girls are home now,” He Jiankui, a researcher at the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, said in a YouTube video.

If confirmed, the report is certain to bring the ethical issues surrounding human genetic engineering into sharp focus, and could lead either to rapid developments in the technology or regulatory limits.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

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Elon Musk sees 70% chance of moving to Mars

Axios Musk interview
Axios’ Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen interview SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. (Axios / HBO via YouTube)

As NASA prepares for its next Mars landing, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk is giving himself a 70 percent chance of moving to Mars. But in an Axios interview airing tonight on HBO, he emphasizes that it won’t be a billionaire joyride.

“Your probability of dying on Mars is much higher than Earth. Really, the ad for going to Mars would be like Shackleton’s ad for going to the Antarctic,” Musk said, referring to explorer Ernest Shackleton’s harrowing 1914-1917 expedition. (The apocryphal ad supposedly was headlined “Men Wanted for Hazardous Journey.”)

“It’s going to be hard,” Musk said. “There’s a good chance of death, going in a little can through deep space. You might land successfully. Once you land successfully, you’ll be working nonstop to build the base. … There’s a good chance you die there. We think you can come back, but we’re not sure. Now, does that sound like an escape hatch for rich people?”

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White House issues grim outlook for climate woes

Wildfires
The U.S. Forest Service says more than 1.2 million acres have burned this year in the Northwest due to wildfires. Estimated cost of fighting the fires exceeded $673 million. (Forest Service NW Photo via Twitter)

If current climate trends continue, the Pacific Northwest will have more summer wildfires, less winter snowpack and smaller numbers of the salmon for which our region is famous.

The skiing could get worse, too. But on the bright side, warm-weather grape varieties may produce better Northwest wine for drowning our sorrows.

Those are just some of the projections contained in the latest edition of the National Climate Assessment, an encyclopedic rundown of the expected region-by-region impacts of climate change on the United States.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

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Books cover the cosmos on a coffee table

Coffee-table books
“Space Atlas,” “Space Stations,” “All Over the Map” and “The Universe Today Ultimate Guide to Viewing the Cosmos” are among newly released coffee-table books with cosmic themes. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

If you’re going to give somebody a book for the holidays, why not go big?

In this age of ebooks, smartphones and tiny houses, there’s less need (and less room) for shelves of inch-thick volumes lining the walls. But it’s still nice to have a colorful, glossy-paged book to peruse during the commercials while you’re watching the latest episode of “Mars.” And if it’s a big book about a big subject, that’s even better.

Here are five big-format books on out-of-this-world subjects to put on your gift list, or to consider giving to folks who are crazy about the cosmos.

Get the full list on GeekWire.

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Thanksgiving table will have empty places in space

Space station trio
NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor, at right, takes a group selfie with Russia’s Sergey Prokopyev and Germany’s Alexander Gerst on the International Space Station. (NASA Photo)

Thanksgiving is traditionally a time for big gatherings around the dinner table, but this year’s feast on the International Space Station will be served to only three people. And only two of them have the day off.

That’s because two spacefliers who were supposed to be in orbit at this time of year missed out on their ride: NASA’s Nick Hague and Russia’s Alexey Ovchinin had to return to Earth just minutes after their launch on Oct. 11 due to a Soyuz rocket malfunction. The next crew won’t arrive until next month.

As a result, NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor is the only one on the station who has traditionally observed American Thanksgiving.

German astronaut Alexander Gerst is getting the day off as well, even though the closest thing to Thanksgiving in Germany, a harvest festival known as Erntedankfest, is usually celebrated in September or October. And for the third crew member, Russia’s Sergey Prokopyev, it’s just another workday.

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All systems go for Mars InSight landing

Mars InSight lander
An artist’s conception shows the Mars Insight lander on the Red Planet’s surface, with its seismometer deployed at left and its heat-measuring “mole” deployed at right. (NASA / JPL-Caltech Illustration)

After a 300 million-mile, six-month interplanetary cruise, NASA’s Mars InSight robotic lander is heading for a plain-vanilla arrival at the Red Planet on Monday — and the team behind the mission couldn’t be more pleased.

“We’re expecting to have a very plain day on Mars for the landing, and we’re very happy about that,” said Rob Grover, the engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory who’s in charge of Mars InSight’s entry, descent and landing.

That’s not only because the weather is relatively clear, but also because Mars InSight is on track to land in a no-drama region of Mars known as Elysium Planitia, which is Latin for  “Paradise Plain.”

“It may not look like paradise, but it is very flat. … It’s an excellent place for landing,” Grover said today. “As landing engineers, we really like this landing site.”

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Climate analysis checks for most livable exoplanets

TRAPPIST-1 planets
This illustration shows the seven Earth-size planets of TRAPPIST-1, an exoplanet system about 39 light-years away. The image shows the relative sizes of planets b through h, from left to right, but does not represent their orbits to scale. (NASA / JPL-Caltech Illustration)

If you had to pick a place to set up shop amid the seven planets in the TRAPPIST-1 star system, 39 light-years from Earth, the fourth rock from that alien sun is the best place to start.

That Earth-sized world, known as TRAPPIST-1 e, came out on top in a recent round of exoplanetary climate modeling, detailed in a paper published Nov. 1 by the Astrophysical Journal.

Not that anyone’s planning on setting up shop there soon: Unless there’s a breakthrough that allows us to travel at a significant fraction of the speed of light, it would take hundreds of thousands of years to get to TRAPPIST-1. But the climate modeling methods developed for the TRAPPIST-1 system could help scientists decide which planets to target first with telescopes capable of analyzing alien atmospheres.

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NASA to review safety after Elon Musk smokes pot

Dragon and Starliner
SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner are being developed to transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station for NASA. (SpaceX / Boeing Illustrations)

NASA has ordered a review of workplace safety at SpaceX and Boeing, the two companies developing spaceships to ferry its astronauts to and from the International Space Station, in the wake of a video showing SpaceX CEO Elon Musk smoking pot and drinking whiskey on a YouTube talk show.

The safety review, first reported by The Washington Post, could involve site inspections and hundreds of interviews. It’s not yet clear whether the review could hold up the first crewed demonstration flights of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon or Boeing’s Starliner capsule. Those flights are currently scheduled for June and August of 2019, respectively, but that schedule could well slip due to technical snags.

Get the full story on GeekWire.