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Blue Origin shows off a pathfinder lunar lander

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture is testing a full-scale prototype of its cargo lunar lander, as part of its campaign to get a jump on heavy-duty deliveries to the moon.

In a video posted today to Twitter and Instagram, members of Blue Origin’s lander development team provided a status report.

The pathfinder lander has been taking shape at the factory that Blue Origin recently opened in Huntsville, Ala. That factory is responsible for manufacturing the descent element for a human-capable landing system, as well as the BE-4 engines for Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket and United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket.

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New study links sleep cycles to moon cycles

A newly published study adds to the long-debated evidence that humans are hard-wired to sleep less when the moon is full or the lights are on, probably due to the ancestral quirks of circadian rhythm.

The pattern has been documented in a variety of indigenous communities in Argentina — and at the University of Washington in Seattle, where bright lights and cloudy weather tend to dull even the full moon’s glare.

“We see a clear lunar modulation of sleep, with sleep decreasing and a later onset of sleep in the days preceding a full moon,” senior study author Horacio de la Iglesia, a UW biology professor, said in a news release. “And although the effect is more robust in communities without access to electricity, the effect is present in communities with electricity, including undergraduates at the University of Washington.”

The research was published today in the open-access journal Science Advances. It’s not the first study to report a correlation between lunar phases and sleep cycles. But it does make use of cutting-edge technology, in the form of wrist monitors, to track the sleep patterns of hundreds of experimental subjects reliably under natural conditions.

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Universe Today

Chinese probe delivers moon samples to Earth

A Chinese probe has delivered the first samples to be collected from the moon in more than 40 years, and its mission isn’t done yet.

The Chang’e-5 sample return capsule floated down to the snowy plains of Inner Mongolia, capping an odyssey that began less than a month ago with the launch of a nine-ton spacecraft from south China’s Wenchang Space Launch Center.

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NASA names ‘Artemis Team’ for future moon trips

NASA today named the first 18 astronauts of its “Artemis Team” for missions to the moon — and two of the teammates trace their roots to Washington state.

One of the pair, Anne McClain, was born in Spokane and went on to serve a six-month stint aboard the International Space Station in 2018-2019. She took on two spacewalks during her time in orbit, but because of a flap over spacesuit sizes, she narrowly missed out on being part of a high-profile, all-woman spacewalk.

Now she has another chance at making history, as one of the candidates to become the first woman to set foot on the moon.

She played down the gender angle during a news briefing today.

“When I was up on space station, we never even thought about genders or races or religions — or nationalities, even — until somebody asked us about them,” McClain said through a mask that she wore to counter the COVID-19 pandemic. “So it has actually made us reflect on the reasons, and my takeaway is that the strongest teams are the most diverse teams.”

The other woman on the team with Washington state roots is Kayla Barron, who considers Richland her hometown and was named to the astronaut corps in 2017. She hasn’t yet been in space, but she has experience with living in close quarters by virtue of her service as a Navy submarine warfare officer.

Barron also has another connection to the Seattle tech community: She earned her master’s degree in nuclear engineering at the University of Cambridge, thanks to a scholarship funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The first Artemis astronauts were introduced by Vice President Mike Pence during a meeting of the National Space Council, held today at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

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Blue Origin’s team files its moonshot plan

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin venture and its partners in the space industry say they’ve given NASA their proposal for a landing system designed to carry astronauts down to the surface of the moon and bring them back up. And they’ve released a 10-minute video explaining how they plan to do it.

This week’s submission of the Blue Origin-led team’s so-called Option A proposal marks a critical step in NASA’s process to select the commercial ventures that will build the human landing system (or systems) for its Artemis moon program. The current schedule calls for the first crewed Artemis landing to take place in 2024, although that date may slip.

NASA has identified three potential providers for the landing system, which would link up with NASA’s Orion deep-space capsule or the yet-to-be-built Gateway platform in high lunar orbit. In addition to Blue Origin’s “National Team,” California-based SpaceX and a team led by Alabama-based Dynetics are in the running.

Early next year, NASA is expected to select one or two teams to move on to the next phase of development.

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Universe Today

Robotic Chinese spacecraft dock in lunar orbit

Two robotic Chinese spacecraft have docked in lunar orbit for the first time ever, in preparation for sending samples from the Moon to Earth.

The lunar ascent module for China’s Chang’e-5 mission was captured by the metal claws of the mission’s orbiter at 5:42 a.m. Beijing time Dec. 6 (1:42 p.m. PT Dec. 5), the China National Space Administration reported.

Over the half-hour that followed, a canister containing lunar material was safely transferred to the orbiter’s attached Earth-return capsule. In the days ahead, the ascent module will be jettisoned, and the orbiter will fire its thrusters to carry the return capsule back toward Earth.

If all proceeds according to plan, the orbiter will drop off the return capsule for its descent to Inner Mongolia sometime around Dec. 16, with the exact timing dependent on the mission team’s analysis of the required trajectory. That would mark the first return of fresh material from the Moon since the Soviet Luna 24 spacecraft accomplished the feat back in 1976.

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Jeff Bezos makes a moonshot prediction

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos heralded progress on the development of the rocket engine that’s destined for use on the lunar lander that his Blue Origin space venture is building — but he also offered a glimpse into his crystal ball for future moon missions.

“This is the engine that will take the first woman to the surface of the moon,” he wrote in an Instagram posting about the hydrogen-fueled BE-7 engine.

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NASA makes a $1 deal to buy material on the moon

NASA has selected four companies to collect material on the moon and store it up as the space agency’s property, for a total price of $25,001. And one deal stands out: a $1 purchase that may rely on Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture.

Although this sounds like the sort of deal Amazon might have offered on Cyber Monday, neither Seattle-based Amazon nor Kent, Wash.-based Blue Origin is directly involved in the purchase.

Instead, NASA accepted a $1 offer from Colorado-based Lunar Outpost, based on the expectation that the venture can set aside a sample for NASA when Blue Origin sends a robotic Blue Moon lander to the moon’s south polar region in 2023.

Lunar Outpost CEO Justin Cyrus said his company’s collection system could fly on any lander heading to the moon, and not necessarily on the Blue Moon lander. But in order to have the $1 deal accepted, Lunar Outpost had to give NASA adequate assurances that it could fly with Blue Origin.

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Universe Today

Chinese probe lifts off from the moon with a full load

For the first time in more than 40 years, a robotic spacecraft has blasted off from the moon – and for the first time ever, it’s a Chinese spacecraft, carrying precious lunar samples back to Earth.

The ascent vehicle for the Chang’e-5 mission fired its engine and rose a region called Oceanus Procellarum at 7:10 a.m. PT (11:10 p.m. Beijing time) today, the China National Space Administration’s China Lunar Exploration Project reported.

Imagery sent back from the moon provided a view of the blastoff from ground zero. It was the first successful lunar launch since the Soviet Luna 24 probe took off during a sample return mission in 1976.

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Universe Today

Here’s what China’s Chang’e-5 moon probe is seeing

China’s Chang’e-5 robotic moon lander is due to spend only two days collecting samples of lunar rock and soil before it sends its shipment on its way back to Earth, but it’s making the most of the time.

Just hours after landing on Dec. 1, the probe started using its robotic scoop and drill to dig up material at Mons Rümker, a lava dome in a region called Oceanus Procellarum, or the Ocean of Storms.

It’s also been sending back pictures and video, including this stunning view of the final minutes before touchdown. Watch how the camera tips straight down to focus on the target spot for the lander: