Space station trio makes ‘bull’s-eye’ landing

Soyuz touchdown

A Russian Soyuz craft touches down in Kazakhstan, marking the return of a U.S.-Russian crew from the International Space Station. (NASA Photo / Bill Ingalls)

NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough and Russian crewmates Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko landed back on Earth today after spending almost six months on the International Space Station. The three left the station overnight in a Russian Soyuz craft and made what NASA spokesman Rob Navias called a “bull’s-eye touchdown” on the steppes of Kazakhstan at 5:20 p.m. local time (4:20 a.m. PT).

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Luxembourg leaders dig asteroid mining

Planetary Resources pact with Luxembourg

Planetary Resources President and CEO Chris Lewicki and Luxembourg Deputy Prime Minister Etienne Schneider celebrate their partnership. (Planetary Resources Photo)

Luxembourg’s Crown Prince Guillaume and Deputy Prime Minister Étienne Schneider will be leading a delegation from the tiny European nation on a trip to the Seattle area on Monday. The main attraction? Asteroid mining, of course. Last year, Planetary Resources struck a deal for $28 million in investment and grants from Luxembourg’s government and bankers. Planetary Resources, based in Redmond, Wash., is developing spacecraft for Earth observation as well as asteroid exploration and mining. By some accounts, mining asteroids for water and other space resources could turn into a multitrillion-dollar industry. That fits in with Luxembourg’s initiative – which will be in the spotlight in Seattle.

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How Blue Origin upgraded its rocket ship

Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin spaceship

JAmazon billionaire Jeff Bezos discusses Blue Origin New Shepard booster rocket and crew capsule, on display at the Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colo. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital spaceship performed beautifully during five trips to space and back, but the company founded by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos is already upgrading the next model to capitalize on the lessons learned to date.

Blue Origin President Rob Meyerson pointed out some of the upgrades this week here at the 33rd Space Symposium during an impromptu session with journalists who were waiting to climb inside a mock-up of the New Shepard crew capsule.

The scorch-scarred New Shepard booster was on display just a few yards away, and Meyerson said his team was getting ready for a new series of uncrewed test flights at Blue Origin’s suborbital launch facility in West Texas. “We’re building out the fleet, and we want to get multiple vehicles out in the field,” he said.

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NASA funds ideas from science fiction

Scene from "John Carter"

A scene from the 2012 movie “John Carter” shows an airship engaged in a Martian battle. The NASA-backed concept for a Martian airship isn’t as ambitious. (© 2011 Disney / John Carter™ ERB, Inc.)

Truth can be stranger than fiction, but it shouldn’t be strange to hear that NASA spends millions of dollars on efforts to turn science-fiction concepts into true technologies.

The NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program, also known as NIAC, has been backing far-out aerospace concepts for almost 20 years. It started out as the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts, modeled after the Pentagon’s DARPA think tank.

NIAC’s latest crop of 22 tech projects was announced this week, and they include a few concepts that were virtually ripped from the headlines of science fiction’s pulp magazines.

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Hubble telescope gives Jupiter its close-up

Jupiter as seen by Hubble

As Jupiter made its nearest approach to Earth in a year, the Hubble Space Telescope viewed the solar system’s largest planet in all of its up-close glory. This picture was taken on April 3 from a distance of 415 million miles. (STScI / ESA / NASA / GSFC Photo / A. Simon)

Jupiter is as close as it’ll get to Earth this year, and the Hubble Space Telescope took advantage of the opportunity with a stunning picture that shows off the giant planet’s best-known spots.

Astronomer Amy Simon of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center arranged to have Hubble trained on the hemisphere that includes Jupiter’s Great Red Spot and another whirling storm to the south, dubbed “Red Spot Jr.” You can also see white spots speckling the planet’s cloud tops.

The interplay of orbits for Jupiter and Earth brought our two planets just 415 million miles apart, which means Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 could pick up features as small as 80 miles across.

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For the last time: Godspeed, John Glenn

John Glenn's burial

A casket containing former astronaut John Glenn’s remains is prepared for burial at Arlington National Cemetery. (DVIDS Photo)

Almost four months after his death at the age of 95, the mortal remains of former astronaut and senator John Glenn were interred today amid Marine Corps pomp and circumstance at Arlington National Cemetery. Glenn became the first American in orbit in 1962, and the oldest human in space in 1998.

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No potty breaks on Blue Origin space trip

Amazon's Jeff Bezos

Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos takes questions in front of Blue Origin’s mock-up for the New Shepard spaceship’s crew capsule. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Are you worried about having to pee while you’re flying on Blue Origin’s New Shepard spaceship? Or getting sick? Billionaire founder Jeff Bezos has a word of advice: Fuhgeddaboudit.

During this week’s visit to the 33rd Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Bezos handled the standard questions about, um, bodily needs while in the confines of the suborbital spaceship that Blue Origin is developing.

Those questions have been addressed before, but perhaps not quite as authoritatively (or humorously). Watch our video, and then we’ll sum up answers to all the burning questions that arose.

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